Eastern Standard Tribe – Day 45 of 64

“All right. Oh, I’ve been sick with worry.”

“I’m sorry, Gran. I need to get through this week and I’ll be free and clear and I’ll come back to Toronto.”

“I’m going to come down there to see you. Linda told me visitors weren’t allowed, is that true?”

“No, it’s not true.” I thought about Gran seeing me in the ward amidst the pukers and the screamers and the droolers and the fondlers and flinched away from the phone. “But if you’re going to come down, come for the hearing at the end of the week. There’s nothing you can do here now.”

“Even if I can’t help, I just want to come and see you. It was so nice when you were here.”

“I know, I know. I’ll be coming back soon, don’t worry.”

If only Gran could see me now, on the infirmary examination table, in four-point restraint. Good thing she can’t.

A doctor looms over me. “How are you feeling, Art?”

“I’ve had better days,” I say, with what I hope is stark sanity and humor. Aren’t crazy people incapable of humor? “I went for a walk and the door swung shut behind me.”

“Well, they’ll do that,” the doctor says. “My name is Szandor,” he says, and shakes my hand in its restraint.

“A pleasure to meet you,” I say. “You’re a doctor doctor, aren’t you?”

“An MD? Yup. There’re a couple of us around the place.”

“But you’re not a shrink of any description?”

“Nope. How’d you guess?”

“Bedside manner. You didn’t patronize me.”

Dr. Szandor tries to suppress a grin, then gives up. “We all do our bit,” he says. “How’d you get up on the roof without setting off your room alarm, anyway?”

“If I tell you how I did it, I won’t be able to repeat the trick,” I say jokingly. He’s swabbing down my shins now with something that stings and cools at the same time. From time to time, he takes tweezers in hand and plucks loose some gravel or grit and plinks it into a steel tray on a rolling table by his side. He’s so gentle, I hardly feel it.

“What, you never heard of doctor-patient confidentiality?”

“Is that thing still around?”

“Oh sure! We had a mandatory workshop on it yesterday afternoon. Those are always a lot of fun.”

“So, you’re saying that you’ve got professional expertise in the keeping of secrets, huh? I suppose I could spill it for you, then.” And I do, explaining my little hack for tricking the door into thinking that I’d left and returned to the room.

“Huh—now that you explain it, it’s pretty obvious.”

“That’s my job—figuring out the obvious way of doing something.”

And we fall to talking about my job with V/DT, and the discussion branches into the theory and practice of UE, only slowing a little when he picks the crud out of the scrape down my jaw and tugs through a couple of quick stitches. It occurs to me that he’s just keeping me distracted, using a highly evolved skill for placating psychopaths through small talk so that they don’t thrash while he’s knitting their bodies back together.

I decide that I don’t care. I get to natter on about a subject that I’m nearly autistically fixated on, and I do it in a context where I know that I’m sane and smart and charming and occasionally mind-blowing.

“…and the whole thing pays for itself through EZPass, where we collect the payments for the music downloaded while you’re on the road.” As I finish my spiel, I realize I’ve been keeping him distracted, standing there with the tweezers in one hand and a swab in the other.

“Wow!” he said. “So, when’s this all going to happen?”

“You’d use it, huh?”

“Hell, yeah! I’ve got a good twenty, thirty thousand on my car right now! You’re saying I could plunder anyone else’s stereo at will, for free, and keep it, while I’m stuck in traffic, and because I’m a—what’d you call it, a super-peer?—a super-peer, it’s all free and legal? Damn!”

“Well, it may be a while before you see it on the East Coast. It’ll probably roll out in LA first, then San Francisco, Seattle…”

“What? Why?”

“It’s a long story,” I say. “And it ends with me on the roof of a goddamned nuthouse on Route 128 doing a one-man tribute to the Three Stooges.”

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