Eastern Standard Tribe – Day 49 of 64

“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.

“Didn’t even cross my mind. Of course, he tried to do just that, but it wasn’t any good—they were engineers; they had no idea how normal human beings interact with their environments. The stuff wasn’t self-revealing—they added a million cool features and a manual an inch thick. After prototyping for six months, they called me in and offered me a two-percent royalty on any products I designed for them.”

“That musta been worth a fortune,” says Szandor.

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Actually, they folded before they shipped anything. Blew through all their capital on R&D, didn’t have anything left to productize their tech with. But my buddy did get another gig with a company that was working on new kitchen stuff made from one-way osmotic materials and he showed them the stuff I’d done with the Ardorite and all of a sudden I had a no-fooling career.”

“Damn, that’s cool.”

“You betcha. It’s all about being an advocate for the user. I observe what users do and how they do it, figure out what they’re trying to do, and then boss the engineers around, getting them to remove the barriers they’ve erected because engineers are all basically high-functioning autistics who have no idea how normal people do stuff.”

The doctor chuckles. “Look,” he says, producing a nicotine pacifier, one of those fake cigs that gives you the oral fix and the chemical fix and the habit fix without the noxious smoke, “it’s not my area of specialty, but you seem like a basically sane individual, modulo your rooftop adventures. Certainly, you’re not like most of the people we’ve got here. What are you doing here?”

Doctor Szandor is young, younger even than me, I realize. Maybe twenty-six. I can see some fancy tattoo-work poking out of the collar of his shirt, see some telltale remnant of a fashionable haircut in his grown-out shag. He’s got to be the youngest staff member I’ve met here, and he’s got a fundamentally different affect from the zombies in the lab coats who maintain the zombies in the felt slippers.

So I tell him my story, the highlights, anyway. The more I tell him about Linda and Fede, the dumber my own actions sound to me.

“Why the hell did you stick with this Linda anyway?” Szandor says, sucking on his pacifier.

“The usual reasons, I guess,” I say, squirming.

“Lemme tell you something,” he says. He’s got his feet up on the table now, hands laced behind his neck. “It’s the smartest thing my dad ever said to me, just as my high-school girl and me were breaking up before I went away to med school. She was nice enough, but, you know, unstable. I’d gotten to the point where I ducked and ran for cover every time she disagreed with me, ready for her to lose her shit.

“So my dad took me aside, put his arm around me, and said, ‘Szandor, you know I like that girlfriend of yours, but she is crazy. Not a little crazy, really crazy. Maybe she won’t be crazy forever, but if she gets better, it won’t be because of you. Trust me, I know this. You can’t fuck a crazy girl sane, son.’”

I can’t help smiling. “Truer words,” I say. “But harsh.”

“Harsh is relative,” he says. “Contrast it with, say, getting someone committed on trumped-up evidence.”

It dawns on me that Doc Szandor believes me. “It dawns on me that you believe me.”

He gnaws fitfully at his pacifier. “Well, why not? You’re not any crazier than I am, that much is clear to me. You have neat ideas. Your story’s plausible enough.”

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