Eastern Standard Tribe – Day 48 of 64


Doc Szandor’s a good egg. He’s keeping the shrinks at bay, spending more time with me than is strictly necessary. I hope he isn’t neglecting his patients, but it’s been so long since I had a normal conversation, I just can’t bear to give it up. Besides, I get the impression that Szandor’s in a similar pit of bad conversation with psychopaths and psychotherapists and is relieved to have a bit of a natter with someone who isn’t either having hallucinations or attempting to prevent them in others.

“How the hell do you become a user-experience guy?”

“Sheer orneriness,” I say, grinning. “I was just in the right place at the right time. I had a pal in New York who was working for a biotech company that had made this artificial erectile tissue.”

“Erectile tissue?”

“Yeah. Synthetic turtle penis. Small and pliable and capable of going large and rigid very quickly.”

“Sounds delightful.”

“Oh, it was actually pretty cool. You know the joke about the circumcisionist’s wallet made from foreskins?”

“Sure, I heard it premed—he rubs it and it becomes a suitcase, right?”

“That’s the one. So these guys were thinking about making drawbridges, temporary shelters, that kind of thing out of it. They even had a cute name for it: ‘Ardorite.’”

“Ho ho ho.”

“Yeah. So they weren’t shipping a whole lot of product, to put it mildly. Then I spent a couple of weeks in Manhattan housesitting for my friend while he was visiting his folks in Wisconsin for Thanksgiving. He had a ton of this stuff lying around his apartment, and I would come back after walking the soles off my shoes and sit in front of the tube playing with it. I took some of it down to Madison Square Park and played with it there. I liked to hang out there because it was always full of these very cute Icelandic au pairs and their tots, and I was a respectable enough young man with about 200 words of Icelandic I’d learned from a friend’s mom in high school and they thought I was adorable and I thought they were blond goddesses. I’d gotten to be friends with one named Marta, oh, Marta. Bookmark Marta, Szandor, and I’ll come back to her once we’re better acquainted.

“Anyway, Marta was in charge of Machinery and Avarice, the spoiled monsterkinder of a couple of BBD&O senior managers who’d vaulted from art school to VPdom in one year when most of the gray eminences got power-thraxed. Machinery was three and liked to bang things against other things arythmically while hollering atonally. Avarice was five, not toilet trained, and prone to tripping. I’d get Marta novelty coffee from the Stinkbucks on Twenty-third and we’d drink it together while Machinery and Avarice engaged in terrible, life-threatening play with the other kids in the park.

“I showed Marta what I had, though I was tactful enough not to call it synthetic turtle penis, because while Marta was earthy, she wasn’t that earthy and, truth be told, it got me kinda hot to watch her long, pale blue fingers fondling the soft tissue, then triggering the circuit that hardened it.

“Then Machinery comes over and snatches the thing away from Marta and starts pounding on Avarice, taking unholy glee in the way the stuff alternately softened and stiffened as he squeezed it. Avarice wrestled it away from him and tore off for a knot of kids and by the time I got there they were all crowded around her, spellbound. I caught a cab back to my buddy’s apartment and grabbed all the Ardorite I could lay hands on and brought it back to the park and spent the next couple hours running an impromptu focus group, watching the kids and their bombshell nannies play with it. By the time that Marta touched my hand with her long cool fingers and told me it was time for her to get the kids home for their nap, I had twenty-five toy ideas, about eight different ways to use the stuff for clothing fasteners, and a couple of miscellaneous utility uses, like a portable crib.

“So I ran it down for my pal that afternoon over the phone, and he commed his boss and I ended up eating Thanksgiving dinner at his boss’s house in Westchester.”

“Weren’t you worried he’d rip off your ideas and not pay you anything for them?” Szandor’s spellbound by the story, unconsciously unrolling and re-rolling an Ace bandage.

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