A man can’t cross a hundred thousand light years, mostly in other people’s baggage compartments, without beginning to fray a little, and Arthur had frayed a lot.
All eyes were on Ford. Some were on stalks.
And somewhere on this good boffo stretch of coastline lay the house of this inconsolable man, a man whom many regarded as being insane. But this was only, as he would tell people, because he was.
Ford looked stunned.
“Where have you been?” he demanded.
“Making some coffee,” said Arthur, still wearing his very placid face. He had long ago realized that the only way of being in Ford’s company successfully was to keep a large stock of very placid faces and wear them at all times.
He didn’t like to think of himself as the sort of person who giggled or sniggered, but he had to admit that he had been giggling and sniggering almost continuously for well over half an hour now.
He had read somewhere that the Eskimos had over two hundred words for snow, without which their conversation would probably have got very monotonous. So they would distinguish between thin snow and thick snow, light snow and heavy snow, sludgy snow, brittle snow, snow that came in flurries, snow that came in drifts, snow that came in on the bottom of your neighbour’s boots all over your nice clean igloo floor, the snows of winter, the snows of spring, the snows you remember from your childhood that were so much better than any of your modern snow, fine snow, feathery snow, hill snow, valley snow, snow that falls in the morning, snow that falls at night, snow that falls all of a sudden just when you were going out fishing, and snow that despite all your efforts to train them, the huskies have pissed on.
He sat on a step, took from his satchel a bottle of that Ol’ Janx Spirit and a towel. He opened the bottle and wiped the top of it with the towel, which had the opposite effect to the one intended, in that the Ol’ Janx Spirit instantly killed off millions of the germs which had been slowly building up quite a complex and enlightened civilization on the smellier patches of the towel.
He wondered where Ford Prefect was. By an extraordinary coincidence, the following day there were two reports in the paper, one concerning the most astonishing incidents with a flying saucer, and the other about a series of unseemly riots in pubs. Ford Prefect turned up the day after that looking hung over and complaining that Arthur never answered the phone.
“How reliable is he?” asked Fenchurch in a sinking voice.
“How reliable?” said Arthur. He gave a hollow laugh. “How shallow is the ocean?” he said. “How cold is the sun?”
“But you don’t understand,” said Ford, his expression slowly ripening from a little taken abackness into rank incredulity. “This is the American Express Card. It is the finest way of settling bills known to man. Haven’t you read their junk mail?”
Indeed there were no casual observers in the Old Pink Dog Bar on the lower South Side of Han Dold City because it wasn’t the sort of place you could afford to do things casually in if you wanted to stay alive. Any observers in the place would have been mean hawklike observers, heavily armed, with painful throbbings in their heads which caused them to do crazy things when they observed things they didn’t like.
“I was being perfectly serious,” said Arthur. “It’s just the Universe I’m never quite sure about.”
Suddenly he realized what the answer to the problem was, and it was this, that something very weird was happening; and if something very weird was happening, he thought, he wanted it to be happening to him.
It’s all right. There’s nothing to see, it’s all over. None of this is actually happening.
The Census report, like most such surveys, had cost an awful lot of money and didn’t tell anybody anything they didn’t already know – except that every single person in the Galaxy had 2.4 legs and owned a hyena.
Life is like a grapefruit. It’s sort of orangy-yellow and dimpled on the outside, wet and squidgy in the middle. It’s got pips inside, too. Oh, and some people have half a one for breakfast.
The figure was completely unrecognizable as the wild-looking creature who had burst crazily into the cottage a little over an hour ago. Gone was the ragged threadbare dressing gown, smeared with the mud of a hundred worlds, stained with junk food condiment from a hundred grimy spaceports, gone was the tangled mane of hair, gone the long and knotted beard, flourishing ecosystem and all. Instead, there was Arthur Dent the smooth and casual, in corduroys and a chunky sweater. His hair was cropped and washed, his chin clean shaven. Only the eyes still said that whatever it was the Universe thought it was doing to him, he would still like it please to stop.
“Listen, bud,” said Ford, “if I had one Altairan dollar for every time I heard one bit of the Universe look at another bit of the Universe and say ‘That’s terrible’ I wouldn’t be sitting here like a lemon looking for a gin.”
There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler’s mind.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” said Arthur. “I’m terribly happy.”
When it had enjoyed its little spin and had calmed down a bit, Arthur reached out for the bedside light, not expecting it to come on. To his surprise it did. This appealed to Arthur’s sense of logic. Since the Electricity Board cut him off without fail every time he paid his bill, it seemed only reasonable that they should leave him connected when he didn’t. Sending them money obviously only drew attention to yourself.
“Zaphod’s calmed down a lot you know.”
“Really?” said Arthur, clustering hurriedly round Fenchurch to relieve her of the shopping.
“Yeah,” said Ford, “at least one of his heads is now saner than an emu on acid.”
Grown men, he told himself, in flat contradiction of centuries of accumulated evidence about the way grown men behave, do not behave like this.