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    Xenology: Have Yourself a Scary Sinterklaas

    Christmas lights
    Christmas, not kids

    Rhinebeck is the only town in a hundred miles with both the means and motivation to throw a Teutonic Christmas festival that shuts down a major thoroughfare, all so they can parade with thirty-foot terror puppets for an hour on a December evening. It is a town of where two famous actors recreationally own a candy shop and it is considered gauche to mention this fact and certainly to whisper their names. It is the sort of picturesque town destroyed by monsters in movies to show middle class audiences that there is a real threat; set in New York City or Chicago, monsters are the price of doing business, which is why their citizens are tiny cannon-fodder instead of characters with close-ups, lines, and names.

    Xenology: Hypothetical Life of the Anxious

    On my walk back, a man the shape and dress of Melissa, ten months deceased, comes out of a mechanic shop. I don't often see her outside the privacy of my thoughts. She always cut a unique figure, however much my mother felt Teen Melissa to be a chameleon, different hair color and style every time she came over. This man is the first one to remind me of here so sharply.

    The rational mind would think, my, that reminds me of my dead friend and would move on.

    My mind, on the other hand, immediately runs ten steps ahead. If it were Melissa, what would I say to her? What might she say to me? Would she be mad at me? Would she know that she was supposed to be dead?

    Xenology: A Good and Accurate Accounting of the Darkness

    Mushroom and skull
    Okay, but not in a dark way.

    I am not, despite perception, dark. As I have ages into a more pacific time in my life, less ruled by adolescent dramas and hormones, I have fewer sweeping tragedies on which to report as though anyone might care. The story instead is figuring out how my head works and what to do about it. In short, I went from Man against Society to Man against Himself, which reduces the cast list.

    But I am not dark. If you met me, you would think I was downright cheerful. As Daniel once put it, and as I embraced fully, I am a Manic Pixie Dream Boy. Sure, I visualize driving off bridges on particularly bad days, but who doesn't like a splash of coffee with their sugary cream?

    Xenology: Thanks for the Memories

    Alyssah and Ayannah
    Lifelike

    For Thanksgiving, my first grade teacher tells us to color in cornucopias traced onto plastic wrap, which she tapes over aluminum foil.

    She tries to explain the sanitized, Eurocentric version of Thanksgiving while we tend to our coloring, the one where the Pilgrims and Native Americans were really good friends, but none of us even attempt to follow along. She does not understand that the fumes from the permanent markers have rendered her class loopy.

    This is my first exposure to what it is to be high. I do not care for it.

    My mother keeps this decoration for decades.

    Xenology: Kiss and Tell

    Thomm and Amber
    The far more important first kiss

    Six and a half years into our relationship, three years into our marriage, Amber lets slip that she didn't much want me to kiss her the first time, that I wanted it much more than she did.

    This is not how I've ever told this story, this foundational moment when we began. As I remember, she was blushing with anticipation, nervously hiding behind her hands, grinning nervously, because she wanted this kiss.

    But, no, she says now. She was willing to go along with it, but that was it. In a moment, my adorable memory is recast as base, something undesired. I have taken first kisses before they were earned, when I was young and didn't know how to behave properly. I wouldn't have wanted to do it with Amber. I am no longer the romantic lead in a perfect moment with my future wife.

    Xenology: Four to Six

    Thomm and Amber
    A good day

    Susan texts that, since they got out of their meeting earlier than expected, she could try to get us a table at Terrapin, an upscale restaurant Amber and I like for their nachos -- we are aspire to pretend we almost have class.

    I text back that I would like her to do this, that I meant to be there already and convince someone to give me a table for six, but was having an existential crisis that involved me frantically sobbing that I want beauty to matter in the world, as one does from time to time -- possibly when one is emotionally dysregulated, sleep deprived, and dealing with a time change.

    "How can you be having an existential crisis? You are texting, so you definitely exist!"

    Xenology: The Neuroses of Accidental Lives

    Amber
    Let this matter

    I had been listening to podcasts, culminating in a session of repeated TED Talks so I would not feel guilty blindly deleting them. I have a tendency to download them with good intentions and then listen instead to conversations about monsters and embarrassing personal stories.

    The man who created Story Corps said that the stories show that people are, on balance, good.

    My MP3 player is nearly dead, so I dart into the corner to charge it, then ask Amber whether she thinks people are actually good because it seems like a good point of discussion.

    I find the words thick in my throat. I am surprised, since I considered this a more philosophical than immediate question. I start crying and do not stop for half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes, while I try to explain myself, having not realized until I started that I might need to.

    I don't think people are inherently good or bad. I don't think we are anything beyond accidental. <

    Xenology: David and Grillades

    I text Susan to inform her of this unexpected hitch in our plans. She is gluten-intolerant, though not specifically celiac, so I tried without much success to find her wheatless pancakes before she granted me absolution enough for my efforts that I could just find a place that served food I would want credit for having put in her belly.

    Xenology: Dr. Susan

    I knew a guy who, after returning from climbing a mountain, found only Cheerios and a block of cheddar cheese in his kitchen, which he ate with gusto, one to each fist. He swore it was the most delicious combination ever and did not understand why everyone didn't know this.

    He repeated his culinary experiment when he was not ravenous and found he experience revolting.

    I am too hungry to be trustworthy.

    Xenology: The Presence of Predators

    Little Me
    Leave this little guy alone.

    I met a predator first in elementary school.

    I was best friend with a boy, in that we were in the same grade so we cleaved together. Outside of the Nintendo and playing in his swampy backyard, we didn't share any interests.

    Over a video game, he told me that he had a neighbor who would give us toys and candy if we went to her house and let her try to teach us math. I recall only going once because the amount of candy and the quality of toys was not enough to endure extracurricular math. She as old, wizened. Her very appearance spoke of decay and dust, clothes hanger bones, a deeply lined face and a loose, pink dressing gown. (In truth, she could have been any age over forty. "Old" is a nebulous concept to a second grader.)

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