By Andrew Paul Grell
It was becoming a point of pride to Karen. They were both about the same age. Both, along with the new Mets phenom, Brandon Nimmo, were transplants from Wyoming, she from Casper and he from Cody, living in New York City. Both of them hated Dick Cheney with a passion. They both worked at phabYOUmore, but in totally different divisions. She designed products for phabYOUmore and he was in charge of making sure people bought phab products. Neither component could exist without the other; that sounded like a pretty good definition of love to her. Three weeks ago, he had invited her for drinks and apps at Friday’s. They talked a lot of shop and he asked a lot of questions about how she got swayed to buy a product. She was signaling more than the traffic light at Houston and Allen Streets, but after coffee and a shared Tennessee Whiskey cake, he said he had an early meeting and put her in a Lyft home.
The following week, he told her he found a place in the city that served Rocky Mountain prairie oysters and invited her to join him. Where they were both from, a guy ordering that on a date meant only one thing. But apparently, in New York it meant two things. He had another early meeting. The next morning, early, Karen came to work and decided her Guerlain Meteorites compact had gotten lost in Marketing, and she “went to look for it.” There was no early meeting in Marketing, but Carter managed to spot her. The next week, there was no “date”.
And now she entered the PhabPheedingPhrenzy super-canteen and saw Carter eating lunch alone, no elbows on the table, long frame postured straight as English royalty, suit jacket—it was cashmere, could it be a Brunello? —still buttoned. Karen had to bypass Daria, her frequent project partner, who shot her a Whisky Tango Foxtrot look; they often had lunch together. Karen, in a get-your-hands-dirty-day outfit, plopped her tray down and invited herself to join him. He looked up from his Harry & Ida’s pastrami—New York did have a few advantages over Wyoming—and cheerfully waved hello. Karen was going to have this out right now. She may have been the last person in Tribeca with an actual leather, paper, and ink Filo-Fax, but she took it out and spread it open.
“Do you live in your parents’ basement?”
“Not since High School, no; they’re still in Cody on the farm.”
She made a tick mark.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but are you gay?”
“No, but around Christmas time, I can be extraordinarily happy.”
Another tick. Two fastballs, two balls, no strikes. She went for the change-up.
“Do you have a Roman toe?”
“What is that?”
“When your second toe is longer than your big toe.” Carter winced. Strike one.
“Can you wiggle your ears? Curl your tongue? Are you lactose intolerant?”
“No, yes, no” in rapid succession. Four more tick marks. Count is three and one. And at least he had the gene that would be the most use to her if anything ever happened between them.
“Are you married, engaged, pinned, or going steady?” Curveball. Carter visibly twitched. Three and two.
Carter’s reply was granite-steady. “No, and I’m not dating anyone, seeing anyone, or keeping company, nor do I have a special friend.” If there had been a first base umpire, he would have ruled it a checked swing. Ball four. Carter gets a walk. They finished lunch and Carter bussed her tray along with his own.
That night, Karen spent hours in her Seatub chair staring at the day’s Filo-fax entry. In her cramped New York apartment, the bizarre lounge chair, essentially an up-turned bath tub, was her safe spot, her happy place. The mauve “living area” had a flat-screen LCD TV and a bar that would do in a pinch. From the black and white futon couch, she could look south through the picture window and see one tree and the top of one of the Brooklyn Bridge towers. Or maybe it was the blue one, the Manhattan Bridge. The listing said, “bridge view.” Turning west, a wall was adorned with mechanicals of her best work, family pictures, her diploma from M.I.T., and on the floor, her network operations center. Behind her hung the three Banksy works she nabbed on that goof day when Banksy was out at Columbus Circle pretending to be another nobody artist selling pictures for $60. The three of them probably weren’t worth more than her studio apartment, but it could be close. And so she chose the Seatub to get some concentrating done without having to see how perfect her apartment was for dating. The result of her staring at the data was that Carter was a little nervous about genetics and was leaving something out on the relationship question. Maybe he had a dominant gene for some horrible disease. But still. Even in Wyoming they knew about safe sex. She would give her “homeboy” one more shot, and if she struck out, go looking for a start-up CEO or a personal trainer or even a New School progressive academic. Anyone with at least something on the ball. It was almost three in the morning when she changed into her lovingly-maintained Tom Seaver New York Mets jersey and got some sleep.
Karen nuked her home-made lobster ravioli, took the antipasto out of the fridge, and marched down to PhabPheedingPhrenzy in her short-ish straight skirt and a top that was just a bit more suggesting than revealing, and cut Carter off at the pass on his way to the buffet line, but made sure to give Daria the hi-sign.
“I brought lunch. You can get us a couple of smoothies; I’ll meet you right there,” she said, pointing to a small, empty table. Way to a man’s heart; like horses, ya gotta lead them around by the nose; They don’t know what they want until you tell them. Et Cetera. Work talk was established to be safe with Carter, so when he came back with two wheat grass, gooseberry and orange peel smoothies, Karen dove right in.
“So, Carter, how’s the campaign for my dress going?” That dress could be Karen’s great moment. The world’s first “Smart Dress.” In default mode, it was a basic black cocktail dress. The string of what looked like pearls that came with every dress controlled functionality. The opacity of any zone could be precisely adjusted, from fully opaque to transparent. It could play videos. Videos with chyrons! Karen was especially proud of the demo; long-horn sheep gamboling around “the mountains.” So to speak. The waistline could display a news crawl or a custom message.
“Not so good. The focus groups are a problem. Or an opportunity, as your group would say.”
“What’s the problem with them? They’re supposed to represent the whole country. Hmm. I think I answered my own question.”
“Everyone loves it when the model comes into the room wearing it, demonstrating it. But it takes about three focus groups to get a woman to volunteer to try one on. When we collect enough women who tried it on, we run another group just with them. The problem isn’t modesty, it’s the instruction manual. We’re putting in a request to Documentation Dora. Heads up.”
“Gee, thanks. You don’t need Dora for that. You need me.” Karen stifled a giggle. “This is an easy one. Get the data for the patterns the people who did try on the dress selected. Take the four most popular and make them pre-sets. Nobody reads the instructions anyway.”
Carter seemed grateful. Hopefully grateful enough. And, of course, this push forward was interrupted by Pat, Karen’s boss, violating a cardinal rule of the Phab. He asked Karen, an underling, about the MultiMotion project. Carter, observed to always be a gentleman, handled the task of rolling his eyes at Pat. No workers liked laboring under watchful security camera eyes. Everyone liked motion detectors for security purposes. Karen figured out that if you ganged enough motion detectors, you could use software to reconstruct an image of what was going on. Paranoid employees could search forever and never find a camera.
“The boxes are done, Pat. The software is in beta. The hold up is how to install enough boxes without people asking questions about how much motion actually had to be detected.”
“Thanks; sorry for interrupting your lunch, Karen, Carter. Upstairs thinks this is a winner. Keep me posted!”
Karen waited till Pat left the Phab.
“The nerve! I’m handing the company 20 Mil easy, and Pat has to come around and sissy-sabotage me.” Uh-oh. About two tablespoons of smoothie sprayed out of Carter’s mouth and onto the last of the lasagna. “Get over it, Carter. Men have cock-blocking, women have sissy-sabotaging. It doesn’t matter what the deal is, people should act AS IF there’s a potential something happening.”
“I lied to you, Karen. A lie by omission. You know, I’m only a first generation Wyomingian. My folks were from far away. Much to my surprise, there is a betrothal contract between my family and a family from home.” Just like the test pilots in The Right Stuff, Karen knew how to get out of this one and avoid auguring in.
“Oh, Hunny. There are so many people in Design from far away with whatever weirdness they bring with them, I have absolutely seen it all. There was an Egyptian guy I liked, but he had an arranged bride waiting for him back home. His folks finally wore him down and he got on a plane to Luxor. And then got on the next flight out. I don’t mean the next flight to New York. I mean THE next plane to take off, he caught ‘the first thing smoking’ as they used to say. I think he said it was to Kiev.” At least Carter got a chuckle out of it. And besides, how far away could someone come from and be named Carter?
“I have no plans to take that trip. But neither do I plan to hurt my family, or the other family either.” Ground rule double. Her anything but vacant-browed lunch companion was now noble, upright, truthful, and sincere. But he still didn’t make it to home plate.
After lunch, Pat came to Karen’s office with a box of Richart chocolates and a bottle of Jameson. Interesting combination.
“I must apologize for my behavior at lunch, Karen. But it was necessary.”
Karen took the shot glasses—they looked like test tubes but had little feet to keep them from falling over when not in their rack—and poured for them both. She would hold off on the chocolate until she learned what “necessary” was.
“How so, Pat? Afraid of interdepartmental cross-pollination?”
“Nothing like that. I want to ask you a question. I can’t give you any answers or background. This is completely voluntary. If you don’t want to answer, just say so. It’s fine.”
“You’ve gotten me all hot and bothered here, Pat. Ask your question.”
“Some unusual things have surfaced with respect to the High Plains Marketer. Guns seem to be involved. Considering that this is the age of terrorism, we can’t be too careful. Have you noticed anything strange, weird, unusual, or out of place about Carter? I mean, any more unusual than you would get in a tech company?”
“You bet. He’s a guy who could have any woman he wants. He asked me out a few times but he hasn’t even held my hand. How’s that for weird?”
“Thanks, Karen. Let me know if you think of anything else.” Pat left her to deal with the candy.
It was to be another night in the Seatub, but then the phone rang. Carter, on the other end of the line, was as incoherent as limn light.”
“Foo! Foo! Foo Goo!”
“Carter. Take a breath. Easy there, stud muffin. In through your nose. Out through your mouth. That’s it. What’s going on?”
“Fugu. I need fugu. Puffer fish. Help. Go right now. East 55th, the place we all laughed about, the one where upstairs you can eat sushi off of naked women. Ask for Tojo. Tell him it’s for me. Twenty whole puffer fish. Bring them here. Hurry. Please.”
“Did you call an ambulance? Are you sick? What’s going on?” Karen could handle panic.
“No. Fugu. Go. Please”
Short of her own ambulance, Citibike would be the way to go. Karen zipped uptown and picked out Tojo right away. He was the one who looked like a pirate. Obviously, this had happened before. Tojo had a score of puffer fish in a thermal bag in 45 seconds and refused payment of any kind. Too bad, under other circumstances it might have been fun to take something out in trade with the old salt. The bag fit neatly in the Citibike front carrier. Fortunately, she had taken many spin classes and was able to get some extra speed out of the low-geared shared cycle by over-spinning. Start to finish, it took nine minutes to get the fish into Carter’s kitchen.
All Carter could say was “Gim! Gim!” He sounded like an old Crazy Eddie commercial, the one with Frankenstein, the Mummy, and Tonto trying to say “His prices are INSANE!”
She handed him the bag and he ripped it open, totally ignoring the zipper seal, and popped a fish into his mouth.
“Whoa, Hossy! You can’t eat them whole! The liver is toxic!!!”
He ate four more and began gaining coherence.
“Thank you, Karen. That was a close one, as they say in the movies.”
“My pleasure, champ. Nothing I love more than the successful completion of a mission.” Karen finally had a chance to notice Carter’s apartment. It looked like a Playboy photo spread of an ideal, what did they call them, a bachelor pad, that was it. Complete with what must be his etchings, waiting to be shown to any woman he happened to invite to see them. Except nobody did etchings anymore and even if they did, no woman would fall for “Would you like to see my etchings?” Except, in her own case, she probably would.
“Carter, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do,” in her best Ricky Riccardo voice. It was her first walk-off home run.
“Karen, do you remember when I told you may family came from far away?”
“Yes…” Good hang time on that answer.
“Well, they come from really far away. It’s place you may have read about in the news a few years back. Gliese 581d.”
Twenty years of girlfriends telling her stories about their male fish that got away, and not a single one said the guy was a space alien.
Carter went on. “I can’t give you what you want. Carter Newel died in 1972. We revivified him. Using the puffer fish liver toxin. It makes it possible for me to operate on Earth. Carter’s essence is now enjoying the delights of my home planet. Loosely translated, the name of my planet is also ‘Earth.’ There’s a lot of that, you know. What else are people going to call their planets? So. What is it they say? ‘It’s not you, it’s me?’ Is that the expression?” I have no doubt that some moderately jock-ish, nerdophilic professional will snap you right up.”
“You’re from another planet. Huh. I’d much rather have heard ‘Welcome to Dumpsville, baby. Population you.’
“Wait. Taste this. Then sit down on the couch.” Carter fed her a tiny piece of a puffer’s fin; he ate the rest of the fish and sat down next to her, very close, held her hand, and continued. “You folks have done an outstanding job. But the incredibly stupid mistakes far outweigh the interesting stuff. You’re going to wind up crushing yourselves—that’s what we call it—if you keep going like this. We can show you how to fix it, but landing in Central Park and asking to be taken to your leader is just going to insert too much noise into the signal. I’m here to learn how to market good ideas to people that don’t yet know these ideas exist. What we do at Phab. Not what they do on Madison Avenue, randomly pitching whatever somebody’s got and convincing people that they must have that very thing. You’ve given me quite an education. Now squeeze my hand. Tight as you can.”
There were definitely waves, waves being reflected and refracted, but it wasn’t an orgasm, although it was just as powerful. Despite her complaining, she’d had plenty of those that weren’t self-induced. It wasn’t quite a moment of enlightenment. Maybe it was a combination of those two plus Plato’s cave dwellers stepping out into the world. And throw in a pinch of Tom Terrific attitude. And now it was him and it was her.
Karen had one more task. The next morning, she gave Daria the hi-sign; her friend came into Karen’s little office and Karen gave her the assignment. Fortunately, Pat had already asked Daria about Carter, so she had a chance to “remember” something weird about Carter. Pat probably asked everyone by now. It took until a half hour before quitting time before Pat made it to her office.
“You can call off the dogs, Karen. The Carter investigation is closed.”
“Yes, Pat, I think everyone knows by now, rumors are a lot faster than feet. Is it really so bizarre to be a Revolutionary War re-enactor? And has a breach-loading musket ever been considered a weapon of mass destruction?”
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