A SCANNER DARKLY -- CHAPTER 16
This made him remember an event from a long way back in his life. Once he had lived with two other guys and sometimes they had kidded about owning a rat named Fred that lived under their sink. And when they got really broke one time, they told people, they had to eat poor old Fred.
Maybe this was one of his bone fragments, the rat who had lived under their sink, who they had made up to keep them company.
Hearing them talking in the lounge.
"This guy was more burned out than he showed. I felt so. He drove up to Ventura one day, cruising all over to find an old friend back inland toward Ojai. Recognized the house on sight without the number, stopped, and asked the people if he could see Leo. 'Leo died. Sorry you didn't know.' So this guy said then, 'Okay, I'll come back again on Thursday.' And he drove off, he drove back down the coast, and I guess he went back up on Thursday again looking for Leo. How about that?"
He listened to their talk, drinking his coffee.
"-- works out, the phone book has only one number in it; you call that number for whoever you want. Listed on page after page ... I'm talking about a totally burned-out society. And in your wallet you have that number, the number, scribbled down on different slips and cards, for different people. And if you forget the number, you couldn't call anybody."
"You could dial Information."
"It's the same number."
He still listened; it was interesting, this place they were describing. When you called it, the phone number was out of order, or if it wasn't they said, "Sorry, you have the wrong number." So you called it again, the same number, and got the person you wanted.
When a person went to the doctor -- there was only one, and he specialized in everything -- there was only one medicine. After he had diagnosed you he prescribed the medicine. You took the slip to the pharmacy to have it filled, but the pharmacist never could read what the doctor had written, so he gave you the only pill he had, which was aspirin. And it cured whatever you had.
If you broke the law, there was only the one law, which everybody broke again and again. The cop laboriously wrote it all up, which law, which infraction each time, the same one. And there was always the same penalty for any breaking of the law, from jaywalking to treason: the penalty was the death penalty, and there was agitation to have the death penalty removed, but it could not be because then, for like jaywalking, there would be no penalty at all. So it stayed on the books and finally the community burned out entirely and died. No, not burned out -- they had been that already. They faded out, one by one, as they broke the law, and sort of died.
He thought, I guess when people heard that the last one of them had died they said, I wonder what those people were like. Let's see -- well, we'll come back on Thursday. Although he was not sure, he laughed, and when he said that aloud, so did everyone else in the lounge.
"Very good, Bruce," they said.
That got to be a sort of tag line then; when somebody there at Samarkand House didn't understand anything or couldn't find what he was sent to get, like a roll of toilet paper, they said, "Well, I guess I'll come back on Thursday." Generally, it was credited to him. His saying. Like with comics on TV who said the same tag-line thing again and again each week. It caught on at Samarkand House and meant something to them all.
Later, at the Game one night, when they gave credit in turn to each person for what he had brought to New-Path, such as Concepts, they credited him with bringing humor there. He had brought with him an ability to see things as funny no matter how bad he felt. Everybody in the circle clapped, and, glancing up, startled, he saw the ring of smiles, everybody's eyes warm with approval, and the noise of their applause remained with him for quite a period, inside his heart.