Eastern Standard Tribe – Day 42 of 64


Virgin Upper’s hot tubs were more theoretically soothing than actually so. They had rather high walls and a rather low water level, both for modesty’s sake and to prevent spills. Art passed through the miniature sauna/shower and into the tub after his massage, somewhere over Newfoundland, and just as the plane hit turbulence, buffeting him with chlorinated water that stung his eyes and got up his nose and soaked the magazine on offshore investing that he’d found in the back of his seat pocket.

He landed at JFK still smelling of chlorine and sandalwood massage oil and the cantaloupe-scented lotion in the fancy toilets. Tension melted away from him as he meandered to the shuttle stop. The air had an indefinable character of homeliness, or maybe it was the sunlight. Amateur Tribal anthropologists were always thrashing about light among themselves, arguing about the sun’s character varying from latitude to latitude, filtered through this city’s pollution signature or that.

The light or the air, the latitude or the smog, it felt like home. The women walked with a reassuring, confident clack clack clack of heel on hard tile; the men talked louder than was necessary to one another or to their comms. The people were a riot of ethnicities and their speech was a riotous babel of accents, idioms and languages. Aggressive pretzel vendors vied with aggressive panhandlers to shake down the people waiting on the shuttle bus. Art bought a stale, sterno-reeking pretzel that was crusted with inedible volumes of yellowing salt and squirted a couple bucks at a panhandler who had been pestering him in thick Jamaican patois but thanked him in adenoidal Brooklynese.

By the time he boarded his connection to Logan he was joggling his knees uncontrollably in his seat, his delight barely contained. He got an undrinkable can of watery Budweiser and propped it up on his tray table alongside his inedible pretzel and arranged them in a kind of symbolic tableau of all things ESTian.

He commed Fede from the guts of the tunnels that honeycombed Boston, realizing with a thrill as Fede picked up that it was two in the morning in London, at the nominal GMT+0, while here at GMT-5—at the default, plus-zero time zone of his life, livelihood and lifestyle—it was only 9PM.

“Fede!” Art said into the comm.

“Hey, Art!” Fede said, with a false air of chipperness that Art recognized from any number of middle-of-the-night calls.

There was a cheap Malaysian comm that he’d once bought because of its hyped up de-hibernate feature—its ability to go from its deepest power-saving sleepmode to full waking glory without the customary thirty seconds of drive-churning housekeeping as it reestablished its network connection, verified its file system and memory, and pinged its buddy-list for state and presence info. This Malaysian comm, the Crackler, had the uncanny ability to go into suspended animation indefinitely, and yet throw your workspace back on its display in a hot instant.

When Art actually laid hands on it, after it meandered its way across the world by slow boat, corrupt GMT+8 Posts and Telegraphs authorities, over-engineered courier services and Revenue Canada’s Customs agents, he was enchanted by this feature. He could put the device into deep sleep, close it up, and pop its cover open and poof! there were his windows. It took him three days and an interesting crash to notice that even though he was seeing his workspace, he wasn’t able to interact with it for thirty seconds. The auspicious crash revealed the presence of a screenshot of his pre-hibernation workspace on the drive, and he realized that the machine was tricking him, displaying the screenshot—the illusion of wakefulness—when he woke it up, relying on the illusion to endure while it performed its housekeeping tasks in the background. A little stopwatch work proved that this chicanery actually added three seconds to the overall wake-time, and taught him his first important user-experience lesson: perception of functionality trumps the actual function.

And here was Fede, throwing up a verbal screenshot of wakefulness while he churned in the background, housekeeping himself into real alertness. “Fede, I’m here, I’m in Boston!”

“Good Art, good. How was the trip?”

“Wonderful. Virgin Upper was fantastic—dancing girls, midget wrestling, hash brownies…”

“Good, very good.”

“And now I’m driving around under Boston through a land-yacht regatta. The boats are mambo, but I think that banana patch the hotel soon.”

“Glad to hear it.” Art heard water running dimly, realized that Fede was taking a leak.

“Meeting with the Jersey boys tomorrow. We’re having brunch at a strip club.”

“OK, OK, very funny,” Fede said. “I’m awake. What’s up?”

“Nothing. I just wanted to check in with you and let you know I arrived safe and sound. How’re things in London?”

“Your girlfriend called me.”


“You got another girlfriend?”

“What did she want?”

“She wanted to chew me out for sending you overseas with your ‘crippling back injury.’ She told me she’d hold me responsible if you got into trouble over there.”

“God, Fede, I’m sorry. I didn’t put her up to it or anything—”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m glad that there’s someone out there who cares about you. We’re getting together for dinner tonight.”

“Fede, you know, I think Linda’s terrific, but she’s a little, you know, volatile.”

“Art, everyone in O’Malley House knows just how volatile she is. ‘I won’t tell you again, Art. Moderate your tone. I won’t be shouted at.’”

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