They pulled the battered paperback out of the bag, handling it like it was the relic of a saint.
They were either men or boys, somewhere in the 17 to 20 range, stuffed in one of the inward-facing back-of-bus seats heading west on Chicago Ave. One was white and one black but both were dressed in pristine 2017 nerdgeek. Thrift-store fatigue jackets to look tough and bristly bits of facewipe they managed to convince themselves were beards.
Their youth infused the air, and I felt sorry for them for it. Their skin was too tight on their faces and their eyes were just not glazed enough by time to be truly attractive. They didn’t have the lumpy tire around the midriff or ever-increasing difficulty with spicy food I’m told the ladies find so sensual.
They flipped and inspected that sainted book, a spinner-rack special that had been passed through reader and used bookstore since probably before these men were born, maybe as far back as the 1990s.
They passed the book between them, almost vibrating with excitement that the black one of the pair had managed to find it. The white one wiped his hand reverently across the cover I knew so well, the one with the early-’90s computer generated images of the six rows and seven columns of tiny orbs.
Six times seven equals 42.
I smiled and fell in love with them.
There are certain things that will always make me laugh. The episode of “Father Ted” with the bishops. Bad puns. The fact there’s a three-pack of blank VHS tapes priced at $16.99 at a CVS on the border of Logan Square and Hermosa, according to my friend Nathan.
And “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
For those who haven’t read it, the book the two men inspected is a manic farce of sci fi by the late Douglas Adams. The plot’s pretty impossible to explain, but it involves the destruction of the planet Earth, bad poetry, telepathic fish, instructions on panicking (don’t) and the last living man stuck forever with a bathrobe, towel and casual drinking buddy.
Mostly, it’s about beautiful, absurd sentences.
“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”
“‘Ford,’ he said, ‘you’re turning into a penguin. Stop it.’”
There’s also a good one about the phrase “to business.”
I have read it and all of the sequels but the last one (because then there wouldn’t be any more) and Douglas Adams’ other two novels and the book that has the short story about the weaponized Reagans. The way Adams made sentences samba was an inspiration for me both professionally and in my development as a grown human nerd.
And for these two little geeklings, it was all about to begin.
There’s always someone about to experience something for the first time. Someone’s about to try sashimi or someone’s about to hear Elvis Costello and say, “Hey, who’s that?”
I broke into the two men’s conversation. The three of us chatted a bit. The old book’s new owner said he was two chapters in. I just smiled at that.
A few nights ago, coming back from a late night at the office, I met a man about a hundred pages away from laughing every time for the rest of his life someone says “42.”