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Ebook The Rosie Project (a Novel) By Graeme Simsion | Epub, Mobi, Text

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  1. mukul
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    The Rosie Project
    By Graeme Simsion
    English | A Novel | 2014 | Humor & Satire | ePub, mobi | 1.2 Mb
    [​IMG]
    Now in paperback, the international bestselling romantic comedy “bursting with warmth, emotional depth, and…humor,” (Entertainment Weekly) featuring the oddly charming, socially challenged genetics professor, Don, as he seeks true love.

    The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.

    Rosie Jarman possesses all these qualities. Don easily disqualifies her as a candidate for The Wife Project (even if she is “quite intelligent for a barmaid”). But Don is intrigued by Rosie’s own quest to identify her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on The Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie―and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.

    Arrestingly endearing and entirely unconventional, Graeme Simsion’s distinctive debut “navigates the choppy waters of adult relationships, both romantic and platonic, with a fresh take (USA TODAY). “Filled with humor and plenty of heart, The Rosie Project is a delightful reminder that all of us, no matter how we’re wired, just want to fit in” (Chicago Tribune).

    Get This Book From Amazon Online Store >>

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    Amazon.com Review
    An Amazon Best Book of the Month, October 2013: Full of heart and humor, Simsion’s debut novel about a fussy, socially-challenged man’s search for the perfect wife is smart, breezy, quirky, and fun. Sure, it’s the precise equivalent of a well-crafted romantic comedy. (In fact, the book was clearly written with the big-screen in mind, and the film rights have already been sold). But you’d have to be a pretty cynical reader not to fall for Don Tillman, a handsome genetics professor who has crafted a pathologically micromanaged life for himself but can’t seem to score a second date. After launching his Wife Project, which includes a hilarious questionnaire intended to weed out imperfect candidates--smokers, makeup wearers, vegans (“incredibly annoying”)--Don meets Rosie, a stunning, maddeningly disorganized bartender/student who’s looking for her biological father. The reader knows just where the story is headed: Rosie’s so wrong for Don, she’s perfect. That’s not giving anything away. Half the fun of the book is watching pent-up, Asperger’s-afflicted Don break free, thanks to Rosie, from his precisely controlled, annoyingly sensible, and largely humorless lifestyle. By the final third, you’re cheering for Don to shatter all his rules. And you’re casting the film. --Neal Thompson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title

    About The Author
    [​IMG]
    GRAEME SIMSION is a former IT consultant with an international reputation. His screen adaptation of The Rosie Project won the Australian Writers Guild/Inscription Award for Best Romantic Comedy Script and has been optioned by Sony Pictures. Graeme lives in Australia with his wife, Anne, and their two children, and is currently working on a sequel to The Rosie Project.

    Download: The Rosie Project (A Novel) By Graeme Simsion | ePub, mobi | 1.2 mb |

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    The Rosie Project
    By Graeme Simsion
    English | A Novel | 2014 | Humor & Satire |Text

    one
    I may have found a solution to the Wife Problem. As with so many scientific breakthroughs, the answer was obvious in retrospect. But had it not been for a series of unscheduled events, it is unlikely I would have discovered it.

    The sequence was initiated by Gene’s insisting I give a lecture on Asperger’s syndrome that he had previously agreed to deliver himself. The timing was extremely annoying. The preparation could be time-shared with lunch consumption, but on the designated evening I had scheduled ninety-four minutes to clean my bathroom. I was faced with a choice of three options, none of them satisfactory.

    1. Cleaning the bathroom after the lecture, resulting in loss of sleep with a consequent reduction in mental and physical performance.

    2. Rescheduling the cleaning until the following Tuesday, resulting in an eight-day period of compromised bathroom hygiene and consequent risk of disease.

    3. Refusing to deliver the lecture, resulting in damage to my friendship with Gene.

    I presented the dilemma to Gene, who, as usual, had an alternative solution.

    “Don, I’ll pay for someone to clean your bathroom.”

    I explained to Gene—again—that all cleaners, with the possible exception of the Hungarian woman with the short skirt, made errors. Short-Skirt Woman, who had been Gene’s cleaner, had disappeared following some problem with Gene and Claudia.

    “I’ll give you Eva’s mobile number. Just don’t mention me.”

    “What if she asks? How can I answer without mentioning you?”

    “Just say you’re contacting her because she’s the only cleaner who does it properly. And if she mentions me, say nothing.”

    This was an excellent outcome, and an illustration of Gene’s ability to find solutions to social problems. Eva would enjoy having her competence recognized and might even be suitable for a permanent role, which would free up an average of 316 minutes per week in my schedule.

    Gene’s lecture problem had arisen because he had an opportunity to have sex with a Chilean academic who was visiting Melbourne for a conference. Gene has a project to have sex with women of as many different nationalities as possible. As a professor of psychology, he is extremely interested in human sexual attraction, which he believes is largely genetically determined.

    This belief is consistent with Gene’s background as a geneticist. Sixty-eight days after Gene hired me as a postdoctoral researcher, he was promoted to head of the Psychology Department, a highly controversial appointment that was intended to establish the university as the Australian leader in evolutionary psychology and increase its public profile.

    During the time we worked concurrently in the Genetics Department, we had numerous interesting discussions, and these continued after his change of position. I would have been satisfied with our relationship for this reason alone, but Gene also invited me to dinner at his house and performed other friendship rituals, resulting in a social relationship. His wife, Claudia, who is a clinical psychologist, is now also a friend. Making a total of two.

    Gene and Claudia tried for a while to assist me with the Wife Problem. Unfortunately, their approach was based on the traditional dating paradigm, which I had previously abandoned on the basis that the probability of success did not justify the effort and negative experiences. I am thirty-nine years old, tall, fit, and intelligent, with a relatively high status and above-average income as an associate professor. Logically, I should be attractive to a wide range of women. In the animal kingdom, I would succeed in reproducing.

    However, there is something about me that women find unappealing. I have never found it easy to make friends, and it seems that the deficiencies that caused this problem have also affected my attempts at romantic relationships. The Apricot Ice Cream Disaster is a good example.

    Claudia had introduced me to one of her many friends. Elizabeth was a highly intelligent computer scientist, with a vision problem that had been corrected with glasses. I mention the glasses because Claudia showed me a photograph and asked me if I was okay with them. An incredible question! From a psychologist! In evaluating Elizabeth’s suitability as a potential partner—someone to provide intellectual stimulation, to share activities with, perhaps even to breed with—Claudia’s first concern was my reaction to her choice of glasses frames, which was probably not even her own but the result of advice from an optometrist. This is the world I have to live in. Then Claudia told me, as though it was a problem, “She has very firm ideas.”

    “Are they evidence-based?”

    “I guess so,” Claudia said.

    Perfect. She could have been describing me.

    We met at a Thai restaurant. Restaurants are minefields for the socially inept, and I was nervous as always in these situations. But we got off to an excellent start when we both arrived at exactly 7:00 p.m. as arranged. Poor synchronization is a huge waste of time.

    We survived the meal without her criticizing me for any social errors. It is difficult to conduct a conversation while wondering whether you are looking at the correct body part, but I locked on to her bespectacled eyes, as recommended by Gene. This resulted in some inaccuracy in the eating process, which she did not seem to notice. On the contrary, we had a highly productive discussion about simulation algorithms. She was so interesting! I could already see the possibility of a permanent relationship.

    The waiter brought the dessert menus and Elizabeth said, “I don’t like Asian desserts.”

    This was almost certainly an unsound generalization, based on limited experience, and perhaps I should have recognized it as a warning sign. But it provided me with an opportunity for a creative suggestion.

    “We could get an ice cream across the road.”

    “Great idea. As long as they’ve got apricot.”

    I assessed that I was progressing well at this point and did not think the apricot preference would be a problem. I was wrong. The ice-cream parlor had a vast selection of flavors, but they had exhausted their supply of apricot. I ordered a chocolate chili and licorice double cone for myself and asked Elizabeth to nominate her second preference.

    “If they haven’t got apricot, I’ll pass.”

    I couldn’t believe it. All ice cream tastes essentially the same, owing to chilling of the taste buds. This is especially true of fruit flavors. I suggested mango.

    “No thanks, I’m fine.”

    I explained the physiology of taste bud chilling in some detail. I predicted that if I purchased a mango and a peach ice cream, she would be incapable of differentiating. And, by extension, either would be equivalent to apricot.

    “They’re completely different,” she said. “If you can’t tell mango from peach, that’s your problem.”

    Now we had a simple objective disagreement that could readily be resolved experimentally. I ordered a minimum-size ice cream in each of the two flavors. But by the time the serving person had prepared them, and I turned to ask Elizabeth to close her eyes for the experiment, she had gone. So much for “evidence-based.” And for computer “scientist.”

    Afterward, Claudia advised me that I should have abandoned the experiment prior to Elizabeth’s leaving. Obviously. But at what point? Where was the signal? These are the subtleties I fail to see. But I also fail to see why heightened sensitivity to obscure cues about ice-cream flavors should be a prerequisite for being someone’s partner. It seems reasonable to assume that some women do not require this. Unfortunately, the process of finding them is impossibly inefficient. The Apricot Ice Cream Disaster had cost a whole evening of my life, compensated for only by the information about simulation algorithms.

    • • •

    Two lunchtimes were sufficient to research and prepare my lecture on Asperger’s syndrome, without sacrificing nourishment, thanks to the provision of Wi-Fi in the medical library café. I had no previous knowledge of autism spectrum disorders, as they were outside my specialty. The subject was fascinating. It seemed appropriate to focus on the genetic aspects of the syndrome, which might be unfamiliar to my audience. Most diseases have some basis in our DNA, though in many cases we have yet to discover it. My own work focuses on genetic predisposition to cirrhosis of the liver. Much of my working time is devoted to getting mice drunk.

    Naturally, the books and research papers described the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, and I formed a provisional conclusion that most of these were simply variations in human brain function that had been inappropriately medicalized because they did not fit social norms—constructed social norms—that reflected the most common human configurations rather than the full range.

    The lecture was scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at an inner-suburban school. I estimated the cycle ride at twelve minutes and allowed three minutes to boot my computer and connect it to the projector.

    I arrived on schedule at 6:57 p.m., having let Eva, the short-skirted cleaner, into my apartment twenty-seven minutes earlier. There were approximately twenty-five people milling around the door and the front of the classroom, but I immediately recognized Julie, the convenor, from Gene’s description: “blonde with big tits.” In fact, her breasts were probably no more than one and a half standard deviations from the mean size for her body weight and hardly a remarkable identifying feature. It was more a question of elevation and exposure, as a result of her choice of costume, which seemed perfectly practical for a hot January evening.

    I may have spent too long verifying her identity, as she looked at me strangely.

    “You must be Julie,” I said.

    “Can I help you?”

    Good. A practical person. “Yes, direct me to the VGA cable. Please.”

    “Oh,” she said. “You must be Professor Tillman. I’m so glad you could make it.”

    She extended her hand but I waved it away. “The VGA cable, please. It’s six fifty-eight.”

    “Relax,” she said. “We never start before seven fifteen. Would you like a coffee?”

    Why do people value others’ time so little? Now we would have the inevitable small talk. I could have spent fifteen minutes at home practicing aikido.

    I had been focusing on Julie and the screen at the front of the room. Now I looked around and realized that I had failed to observe nineteen people. They were children, predominantly male, sitting at desks. Presumably these were the victims of Asperger’s syndrome. Almost all the literature focuses on children.

    Despite their affliction, they were making better use of their time than their parents, who were chattering aimlessly. Most were operating portable computing devices. I guessed their ages as between eight and thirteen. I hoped they had been paying attention in their science classes, as my material assumed a working knowledge of organic chemistry and the structure of DNA.

    I realized that I had failed to reply to the coffee question.

    “No.”

    Unfortunately, because of the delay, Julie had forgotten the question. “No coffee,” I explained. “I never drink coffee after three forty-eight p.m. It interferes with sleep. Caffeine has a half-life of three to four hours, so it’s irresponsible serving coffee at seven p.m. unless people are planning to stay awake until after midnight. Which doesn’t allow adequate sleep if they have a conventional job.” I was trying to make use of the waiting time by offering practical advice, but it seemed that she preferred to discuss trivia.

    “Is Gene all right?” she asked. It was obviously a variant on that most common of formulaic interactions, “How are you?”

    “He’s fine, thank you,” I said, adapting the conventional reply to the third-person form.

    “Oh. I thought he was ill.”

    “Gene is in excellent health except for being six kilograms overweight. We went for a run this morning. He has a date tonight, and he wouldn’t be able to go out if he was ill.”

    Julie seemed unimpressed, and in reviewing the interaction later, I realized that Gene must have lied to her about his reason for not being present. This was presumably to protect Julie from feeling that her lecture was unimportant to Gene and to provide a justification for a less prestigious speaker being sent as a substitute. It seems hardly possible to analyze such a complex situation involving deceit and supposition of another person’s emotional response, and then prepare your own plausible lie, all while someone is waiting for you to reply to a question. Yet that is exactly what people expect you to be able to do.

    Eventually, I set up my computer and we got started, eighteen minutes late. I would need to speak forty-three percent faster to finish on schedule at 8:00 p.m.—a virtually impossible performance goal. We were going to finish late, and my schedule for the rest of the night would be thrown out.
     
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    two
    I had titled my talk “Genetic Precursors to Autism Spectrum Disorders” and sourced some excellent diagrams of DNA structures. I had only been speaking for nine minutes, a little faster than usual to recover time, when Julie interrupted.

    “Professor Tillman. Most of us here are not scientists, so you may need to be a little less technical.” This sort of thing is incredibly annoying. People can tell you the supposed characteristics of a Gemini or a Taurus and will spend five days watching a cricket match but cannot find the interest or the time to learn the basics of what they, as humans, are made up of.

    I continued with my presentation as I had prepared it. It was too late to change and surely some of the audience were informed enough to understand.

    I was right. A hand went up, a male of about twelve.

    “You are saying that it is unlikely that there is a single genetic marker, but rather that several genes are implicated and the aggregate expression depends on the specific combination. Affirmative?”

    Exactly! “Plus environmental factors. The situation is analogous to bipolar disorder, which—”

    Julie interrupted again. “So, for us nongeniuses, I think Professor Tillman is reminding us that Asperger’s is something you’re born with. It’s nobody’s fault.”

    I was horrified by the use of the word fault, with its negative connotations, especially as it was being employed by someone in authority. I abandoned my decision not to deviate from the genetic issues. The matter had doubtless been brewing in my unconscious, and the volume of my voice may have increased as a result.

    “Fault! Asperger’s isn’t a fault. It’s a variant. It’s potentially a major advantage. Asperger’s syndrome is associated with organization, focus, innovative thinking, and rational detachment.”

    A woman at the rear of the room raised her hand. I was focused on the argument now and made a minor social error, which I quickly corrected.

    “The fat woman—overweight woman—at the back?”

    She paused and looked around the room, but then continued, “Rational detachment: is that a euphemism for lack of emotion?”

    “Synonym,” I replied. “Emotions can cause major problems.”

    I decided it would be helpful to provide an example, drawing on a story in which emotional behavior would have led to disastrous consequences.

    “Imagine,” I said, “you’re hiding in a basement. The enemy is searching for you and your friends. Everyone has to keep totally quiet, but your baby is crying.” I did an impression, as Gene would, to make the story more convincing: “Waaaaa.” I paused dramatically. “You have a gun.”

    Hands went up everywhere.

    Julie jumped to her feet as I continued. “With a silencer. They’re coming closer. They’re going to kill you all. What do you do? The baby’s screaming—”

    The kids couldn’t wait to share their answer. One called out, “Shoot the baby,” and soon they were all shouting, “Shoot the baby, shoot the baby.”

    The boy who had asked the genetics question called out, “Shoot the enemy,” and then another said, “Ambush them.”

    The suggestions were coming rapidly.

    “Use the baby as bait.”

    “How many guns do we have?”

    “Cover its mouth.”

    “How long can it live without air?”

    As I had expected, all the ideas came from the Asperger’s “sufferers.” The parents made no constructive suggestions; some even tried to suppress their children’s creativity.

    I raised my hands. “Time’s up. Excellent work. All the rational solutions came from the aspies. Everyone else was incapacitated by emotion.”

    One boy called out, “Aspies rule!” I had noted this abbreviation in the literature, but it appeared to be new to the children. They seemed to like it and soon were standing on the chairs and then the desks, punching the air and chanting, “Aspies rule!” in chorus. According to my reading, children with Asperger’s syndrome frequently lack self-confidence in social situations. Their success in problem solving seemed to have provided a temporary cure for this, but again their parents were failing to provide positive feedback, shouting at them and in some cases attempting to pull them down from the desks. Apparently they were more concerned with adherence to social convention than with the progress their children were making.

    I felt I had made my point effectively, and Julie did not think we needed to continue with the genetics. The parents appeared to be reflecting on what their children had learned and left without interacting with me further. It was only 7:43 p.m. An excellent outcome.

    As I packed up my laptop, Julie burst out laughing.

    “Oh my God,” she said. “I need a drink.”

    I was not sure why she was sharing this information with someone she had known for only forty-six minutes. I planned to consume some alcohol myself when I arrived home but saw no reason to inform Julie.

    She continued, “You know, we never use that word. Aspies. We don’t want them thinking it’s some sort of club.” More negative implications from someone who was presumably paid to assist and encourage.

    “Like homosexuality?” I said.

    “Touché,” said Julie. “But it’s different. If they don’t change, they’re not going to have real relationships; they’ll never have partners.” This was a reasonable argument, and one that I could understand, given my own difficulties in that sphere. But Julie changed the subject. “But you’re saying there are things—useful things—they can do better than . . . nonaspies? Besides killing babies.”

    “Of course.” I wondered why someone involved in the education of people with uncommon attributes was not aware of the value of and market for such attributes. “There’s a company in Denmark that recruits aspies for computer applications testing.”

    “I didn’t know that,” said Julie. “You’re really giving me a different perspective.” She looked at me for a few moments. “Do you have time for a drink?” And then she put her hand on my shoulder.

    I flinched automatically. Definitely inappropriate contact. If I had done that to a woman, there would almost certainly have been a problem, possibly a sexual harassment complaint to the Dean, which could have consequences for my career. Of course, no one was going to criticize her for it.

    “Unfortunately, I have other activities scheduled.”

    “No flexibility?”

    “Definitely not.” Having succeeded in recovering lost time, I was not about to throw my life into chaos again.

    • • •

    Before I met Gene and Claudia I had two other friends. The first was my older sister. Although she was a mathematics teacher, she had little interest in advances in the field. However, she lived nearby and would visit twice weekly and sometimes randomly. We would eat together and discuss trivia, such as events in the lives of our relatives and social interactions with our colleagues. Once a month, we drove to Shepparton for Sunday dinner with our parents and brother. She was single, probably as a result of being shy and not conventionally attractive. Due to gross and inexcusable medical incompetence, she is now dead.

    The second friend was Daphne, whose friendship period also overlapped with Gene and Claudia’s. She moved into the apartment above mine after her husband entered a nursing home as a result of dementia. Due to knee failure, exacerbated by obesity, she was unable to walk more than a few steps, but she was highly intelligent and I began to visit her regularly. She had no formal qualifications, having performed a traditional female homemaker role. I considered this to be an extreme waste of talent—particularly as her descendants did not return the care. She was curious about my work, and we initiated the Teach Daphne Genetics Project, which was fascinating for both of us.

    She began eating her dinner in my apartment on a regular basis, as there are massive economies of scale in cooking one meal for two people rather than two separate meals. Each Sunday at 3:00 p.m. we would visit her husband at the nursing home, which was 7.3 kilometers away. I was able to combine a 14.6-kilometer walk pushing a wheelchair with interesting conversation about genetics. I would read while she spoke to her husband, whose level of comprehension was difficult to determine but definitely low.

    Daphne had been named after the plant that was flowering at the time of her birth, on the twenty-eighth of August. On each birthday, her husband would give her daphne flowers, and she considered this a highly romantic action. She complained that her approaching birthday would be the first occasion in fifty-six years on which this symbolic act would not be performed. The solution was obvious, and when I wheeled her to my apartment for dinner on her seventy-eighth birthday, I had purchased a quantity of the flowers to give her.

    She recognized the smell immediately and began crying. I thought I had made a terrible error, but she explained that her tears were a symptom of happiness. She was also impressed by the chocolate cake that I had made, but not to the same extent.

    During the meal, she made an incredible statement: “Don, you would make someone a wonderful husband.”

    This was so contrary to my experiences of being rejected by women that I was temporarily stunned. Then I presented her with the facts—the history of my attempts to find a partner, beginning with my assumption as a child that I would grow up and get married, and finishing with my abandonment of the idea as the evidence grew that I was unsuitable.

    Her argument was simple: there’s someone for everyone. Statistically, she was almost certainly correct. Unfortunately, the probability that I would find such a person was vanishingly small. But it created a disturbance in my brain, like a mathematical problem that we know must have a solution.

    For her next two birthdays, we repeated the flower ritual. The results were not as dramatic as the first time, but I also purchased gifts for her—books on genetics—and she seemed very happy. She told me that her birthday had always been her favorite day of the year. I understood that this view was common in children, owing to the gifts, but had not expected it in an adult.

    Ninety-three days after the third birthday dinner, we were traveling to the nursing home, discussing a genetics paper that Daphne had read the previous day, when it became apparent that she had forgotten some significant points. It was not the first time in recent weeks that her memory had been faulty, and I immediately organized an assessment of her cognitive functioning. The diagnosis was Alzheimer’s disease.

    Daphne’s intellectual capability deteriorated rapidly, and we were soon unable to have our discussions about genetics. But we continued our meals and walks to the nursing home. Daphne now spoke primarily about her past, focusing on her husband and family, and I was able to form a generalized view of what married life could be like. She continued to insist that I could find a compatible partner and enjoy the high level of happiness that she had experienced in her own life. Supplementary research confirmed that Daphne’s arguments were supported by evidence: married men are happier and live longer.

    One day Daphne asked, “When will it be my birthday again?” and I realized that she had lost track of dates. I decided that it would be acceptable to lie in order to maximize her happiness. The problem was to source some daphne out of season, but I had unexpected success. I was aware of a geneticist who was working on altering and extending the flowering of plants for commercial reasons. He was able to supply my flower vendor with some daphne, and we had a simulated birthday dinner. I repeated the procedure each time Daphne asked about her birthday.

    Eventually, it was necessary for Daphne to join her husband at the nursing home, and as her memory failed, we celebrated her birthdays more often, until I was visiting her daily. The flower vendor gave me a special loyalty card. I calculated that Daphne had reached the age of 207, according to the number of birthdays, when she stopped recognizing me, and 319 when she no longer responded to the daphne and I abandoned the visits.

    • • •

    I did not expect to hear from Julie again. As usual, my assumptions about human behavior were wrong. Two days after the lecture, at 3:37 p.m., my phone rang with an unfamiliar number. Julie left a message asking me to call back, and I deduced that I must have left something behind.

    I was wrong again. She wanted to continue our discussion of Asperger’s syndrome. I was pleased that my input had been so influential. She suggested we meet over dinner, which was not the ideal location for productive discussion, but as I usually eat dinner alone, it would be easy to schedule. Background research was another matter.

    “What specific topics are you interested in?”

    “Oh,” she said, “I thought we could just talk generally . . . get to know each other a bit.”

    This sounded unfocused. “I need at least a broad indication of the subject domain. What did I say that particularly interested you?”

    “Oh . . . I guess the stuff about the computer testers in Denmark.”

    “Computer applications testers.” I would definitely need to do some research. “What would you like to know?”

    “I was wondering how they found them. Most adults with Asperger’s syndrome don’t know they have it.”

    It was a good point. Interviewing random applicants would be a highly inefficient way to detect a syndrome that has an estimated prevalence of less than 0.3 percent.

    I ventured a guess. “I presume they use a questionnaire as a preliminary filter.” I had not even finished the sentence when a light went on in my head—not literally, of course.

    A questionnaire! Such an obvious solution. A purpose-built, scientifically valid instrument incorporating current best practice to filter out the time wasters, the disorganized, the ice-cream discriminators, the visual-harassment complainers, the crystal gazers, the horoscope readers, the fashion obsessives, the religious fanatics, the vegans, the sports watchers, the creationists, the smokers, the scientifically illiterate, the homeopaths, leaving, ideally, the perfect partner or, realistically, a manageable short list of candidates.

    “Don?” It was Julie, still on the line. “When do you want to get together?”

    Things had changed. Priorities had shifted.

    “It’s not possible,” I said. “My schedule is full.”

    I was going to need all available time for the new project.

    The Wife Project.
     
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    After speaking with Julie, I went immediately to Gene’s office in the psychology building, but he was not there. Fortunately his personal assistant, The Beautiful Helena, who should be called The Obstructive Helena, was not there either and I was able to access Gene’s diary. I discovered that he was giving a public lecture, due to finish at 5:00 p.m., with a gap before a meeting at 5:30 p.m. Perfect. I would merely have to reduce the length of my scheduled gym session. I booked the vacant slot.

    After an accelerated workout at the gym, achieved by deleting the shower and change tasks, I jogged to the lecture theater, where I waited outside the staff entrance. Although I was perspiring heavily from the heat and exercise, I was energized, both physically and mentally. As soon as my watch showed 5:00 p.m., I walked in. Gene was at the lectern of the darkened theater, still talking, apparently oblivious to time, responding to a question about funding. My entrance had allowed a shaft of light into the room, and I realized that the audience’s eyes were now on me, as if expecting me to say something.

    “Time’s up,” I said. “I have a meeting with Gene.”

    People immediately started getting up, and I observed the Dean in the front row with three people in corporate costumes. I guessed that they were there as potential providers of finance and not because of an intellectual interest in primate sexual attraction. Gene is always trying to solicit money for research, and the Dean is constantly threatening to downsize the Genetics and Psychology Departments because of insufficient funding. It is not an area I involve myself in.

    Gene spoke over the chatter. “I think my colleague Professor Tillman has given us a signal that we should discuss the finances, critical as they are to our ongoing work, at another time.” He looked toward the Dean and her companions. “Thank you again for your interest in my work—and of course that of my colleagues in the Department of Psychology.” There was applause. It seemed that my intervention had been timely.

    The Dean and her corporate friends swept past me. She said, just to me, “Sorry to hold up your meeting, Professor Tillman. I’m sure we can find the money elsewhere.” This was good to hear, but now, annoyingly, there was a throng around Gene. A woman with red hair and several metal objects in her ears was talking to him. She was speaking quite loudly.

    “I can’t believe you used a public lecture to push your own agenda.”

    “Lucky you came, then. You’ve changed one of your beliefs. That’d be a first.”

    It was obvious that there was some animosity on the woman’s part, even though Gene was smiling.

    “Even if you were right, which you’re not, what about the social impact?”

    I was amazed by Gene’s next reply, not by its intent, which I am familiar with, but by its subtle shift in topic. Gene has social skills at a level that I will never have.

    “This is sounding like a café discussion. Why don’t we pick it up over coffee sometime?”

    “Sorry,” she said. “I’ve got research to do. You know, evidence.”

    I moved to push in, but a tall, blond woman was ahead of me, and I did not want to risk body contact. She spoke with a Norwegian accent.

    “Professor Barrow?” she said, meaning Gene. “With respect, I think you are oversimplifying the feminist position.”

    “If we’re going to talk philosophy, we should do it in a coffee shop,” Gene replied. “I’ll catch you at Barista’s in five.”

    The woman nodded and walked toward the door.

    Finally, we had time to talk.

    “What’s her accent?” Gene asked me. “Swedish?”

    “Norwegian,” I said. “I thought you had a Norwegian already.”

    I told him that we had a discussion scheduled, but Gene was now focused on having coffee with the woman. Most male animals are programmed to give higher priority to sex than to assisting an unrelated individual, and Gene had the additional motivation of his research project. Arguing would be hopeless.

    “Book the next slot in my diary,” he said.

    The Beautiful Helena had presumably departed for the day, and I was again able to access Gene’s diary. I amended my ownschedule to accommodate the appointment. From now on, the Wife Project would have maximum priority.

    I waited until exactly 7:30 a.m. the next day before knocking on Gene and Claudia’s door. It had been necessary to shift my jog to the market for dinner purchases back to 5:45 a.m., which in turn had meant going to bed earlier the previous night, with a flow-on effect to a number of scheduled tasks.

    I heard sounds of surprise through the door before their daughter Eugenie opened it. Eugenie was, as always, pleased to see me, and requested that I hoist her onto my shoulders and jump all the way to the kitchen. It was great fun. It occurred to me that I might be able to include Eugenie and her half brother Carl as my friends, making a total of four.

    Gene and Claudia were eating breakfast and told me that they had not been expecting me. I advised Gene to put his diary online: he could remain up-to-date and I would avoid unpleasant encounters with The Beautiful Helena. He was not enthusiastic.

    I had missed breakfast, so I took a tub of yogurt from the refrigerator. Sweetened! No wonder Gene is overweight. Claudia is not yet overweight, but I had noticed some increase. I pointed out the problem and identified the yogurt as the possible culprit.

    Claudia asked whether I had enjoyed the Asperger’s lecture. She was under the impression that Gene had delivered the lecture and I had merely attended. I corrected her mistake and told her I had found the subject fascinating.

    “Did the symptoms remind you of anyone?” she asked.

    They certainly did. They were an almost perfect description of Laszlo Hevesi in the Physics Department. I was about to relate the famous story of Laszlo and the pajamas when Gene’s son, Carl, who is sixteen, arrived in his school uniform. He walked toward the refrigerator, as if to open it, then suddenly spun around and threw a full-blooded punch at my head. I caught the punch and pushed him gently but firmly to the floor, so he could see that I was achieving the result with leverage rather than strength. This is a game we always play, but he had not noticed the yogurt, which was now on our clothes.

    “Stay still,” said Claudia. “I’ll get a cloth.”

    A cloth was not going to clean my shirt properly. Laundering a shirt requires a machine, detergent, fabric softener, and considerable time.

    “I’ll borrow one of Gene’s,” I said, and headed to their bedroom.

    When I returned, wearing an uncomfortably large white shirt with a decorative frill in the front, I tried to introduce the Wife Project, but Claudia was engaged in child-related activities. This was becoming frustrating. I booked dinner for Saturday night and asked them not to schedule any other conversation topics.

    The delay was actually opportune, as it enabled me to undertake some research on questionnaire design, draw up a list of desirable attributes, and produce a draft pro forma survey. All this, of course, had to be arranged around my teaching and research commitments and an appointment with the Dean.

    On Friday morning we had yet another unpleasant interaction as a result of my reporting an honors-year student for academic dishonesty. I had already caught Kevin Yu cheating once. Then, marking his most recent assignment, I had recognized a sentence from another student’s work of three years earlier.

    Some investigation established that the past student was now Kevin’s private tutor and had written at least part of his essay for him. This had all happened some weeks ago. I had reported the matter and expected the disciplinary process to take its course. Apparently it was more complicated than this.

    “The situation with Kevin is a little awkward,” said the Dean. We were in her corporate-style office and she was wearing her corporate-style costume of matching dark-blue skirt and jacket, which, according to Gene, is intended to make her appear more powerful. She is a short, slim person, aged approximately fifty, and it is possible that the costume makes her appear bigger, but I cannot see the relevance of physical dominance in an academic environment.

    “This is Kevin’s third offense, and university policy requires that he be expelled,” she said.

    The facts seemed to be clear and the necessary action straightforward. I tried to identify the awkwardness that the Dean referred to. “Is the evidence insufficient? Is he making a legal challenge?”

    “No, that’s all perfectly clear. But the first offense was very naive. He cut and pasted from the Internet and the copying was picked up by the plagiarism software. He was in his first year and his English wasn’t very good. And there are cultural differences.”

    I had not known about this first offense.

    “The second time, you reported him because he’d borrowed from an obscure paper that you were somehow familiar with.”

    “Correct.”

    “Don, none of the other lecturers are as . . . vigilant as you.”

    It was unusual for the Dean to compliment me on my wide reading and dedication.

    “These kids pay a lot of money to study here. We rely on their fees. We don’t want them stealing blatantly from the Internet. But we have to recognize that they need assistance, and . . . Kevin has only a semester to go. We can’t send him home after three and a half years without a qualification. It doesn’t look good.”

    “What if he was a medical student? What if you went to the hospital and the doctors who operated on you had cheated on their exams?”

    “Kevin’s not a medical student. And he didn’t cheat on his exams, he just got some help with an assignment.”

    It seemed that the Dean had been flattering me only in order to procure unethical behavior. But the solution to her dilemma was obvious. If she did not want to break the rules, then she should change the rules. I pointed this out.

    I am not good at interpreting expressions and was not familiar with the one that appeared on the Dean’s face. “We can’t be seen to allow cheating.”

    “Even though we do?”

    The meeting left me confused and angry. There were serious matters at stake. What if our research was not accepted because we had a reputation for low academic standards? People could die while cures for diseases were delayed. What if a genetics laboratory hired a person whose qualification had been achieved through cheating, and that person made major errors? The Dean seemed more concerned with perceptions than with these crucial matters.

    I reflected on what it would be like to spend my life living with the Dean. It was a truly terrible thought. The underlying problem was the preoccupation with image. My questionnaire would be ruthless in filtering out women who were concerned with appearance.
     
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    Gene opened the door with a glass of red wine in his hand. I parked my bicycle in their hallway, took off my backpack, and retrieved the Wife Project folder, pulling out Gene’s copy of the draft. I had pruned it to sixteen double-sided pages.

    “Relax, Don, plenty of time,” he said. “We’re going to have a civilized dinner, and then we’ll do the questionnaire. If you’re going to be dating, you need dinner practice.”

    He was, of course, right. Claudia is an excellent cook and Gene has a vast collection of wines, organized by region, vintage, and producer. We went to his “cellar,” which is not actually below ground, where he showed me his recent purchases and we selected a second bottle. We ate with Carl and Eugenie, and I was able to avoid small talk by playing a memory game with Eugenie. She noticed my folder marked “Wife Project,” which I put on the table as soon as I finished dessert.

    “Are you getting married, Don?” she asked.

    “Correct.”

    “Who to?”

    I was about to explain, but Claudia sent Eugenie and Carl to their rooms—a good decision, as they did not have the expertise to contribute.

    I handed questionnaires to Claudia and Gene. Gene poured port for all of us. I explained that I had followed best practice in questionnaire design, including multiple-choice questions, Likert scales, cross-validation, dummy questions, and surrogates. Claudia asked for an example of the last of these.

    “Question thirty-five: Do you eat kidneys? Correct answer is (c) occasionally. Testing for food problems. If you ask directly about food preferences, they say, ‘I eat anything,’ and then you discover they’re vegetarian.”

    I am aware that there are many arguments in favor of vegetarianism. However, as I eat meat, I considered it would be more convenient if my partner did so also. At this early stage, it seemed logical to specify the ideal solution and review the questionnaire later if necessary.

    Claudia and Gene were reading.

    Claudia said, “For an appointment, I’m guessing (b) a little early.”

    This was patently incorrect, demonstrating that even Claudia, who was a good friend, would be unsuitable as a partner.

    “The correct answer is (c) on time,” I said. “Habitual earliness is cumulatively a major waste of time.”

    “I’d allow a little early,” said Claudia. “She might be trying hard. That’s not a bad thing.”

    An interesting point. I made a note to consider it but pointed out that (d) a little late and (e) very late were definitely unacceptable.

    “I think if a woman describes herself as a brilliant cook, she’s a bit full of herself,” said Claudia. “Just ask her if she enjoys cooking. Mention that you do too.”

    This was exactly the sort of input I was looking for—subtle nuances of language that I am not conscious of. It struck me that if the respondent was someone like me, she would not notice the difference, but it was unreasonable to require that my potential partner share my lack of subtlety.

    “No jewelry, no makeup?” said Claudia, correctly predicting the answers to two questions that had been prompted by my recent interaction with the Dean.

    “Jewelry isn’t always about appearance,” she said. “If you have to have a question, drop the jewelry one and keep the makeup. But just ask if she wears it daily.”

    “Height, weight, and body mass index.” Gene was skimming ahead. “Can’t you do the calculation yourself?”

    “That’s the purpose of the question,” I said. “Checking they can do basic arithmetic. I don’t want a partner who’s mathematically illiterate.”

    “I thought you might have wanted to get an idea of what they look like,” said Gene.

    “There’s a question on fitness,” I said.

    “I was thinking about sex,” said Gene.

    “Just for a change,” said Claudia, an odd statement as Gene talks constantly about sex. But he had made a good point.

    “I’ll add a question on HIV and herpes.”

    “Stop,” said Claudia. “You’re being way too picky.”

    I began to explain that an incurable sexually transmitted disease was a severe negative, but Claudia interrupted.

    “About everything.”

    It was an understandable response. But my strategy was to minimize the chance of making a type-one error—wasting time on an unsuitable choice. Inevitably, that increased the risk of a type-two error—rejecting a suitable person. But this was an acceptable risk as I was dealing with a very large population.

    Gene’s turn: “Nonsmoking, fair enough. But what’s the right answer on drinking?”

    “Zero.”

    “Hang on. You drink.” He pointed to my port glass, which he had topped up a few moments earlier. “You drink quite a bit.”

    I explained that I was expecting some improvement for myself from the project.

    We continued in this manner and I received some excellent feedback. I did feel that the questionnaire was now less discriminating but was still confident it would eliminate most if not all of the women who had given me problems in the past. Apricot Ice Cream Woman would have failed at least five questions.

    My plan was to advertise on traditional dating sites but to provide a link to the questionnaire in addition to posting the usual insufficiently discriminating information about height, profession, and whether I enjoyed long walks on the beach.

    Gene and Claudia suggested that I also undertake some face-to-face dating to practice my social skills. I could see the value of validating the questionnaires in the field, so while I waited for online responses to arrive, I printed some questionnaires andreturned to the dating process that I thought I had abandoned forever.

    • • •

    I began by registering with Table for Eight, a commercial matchmaking organization. After an undoubtedly unsound preliminary matching process, based on manifestly inadequate data, four men and four women, including me, were provided with details of a city restaurant at which a booking had been made. I packed four questionnaires and arrived precisely at 8:00 p.m. Only one woman was there! The other three were late. It was a stunning validation of the advantages of fieldwork. These women may well have answered (b) a little early or (c) on time, but their actual behavior demonstrated otherwise. I decided to temporarily allow (d) a little late, on the basis that a single occasion might not be representative of their overall performance. I could hear Claudia saying, “Don, everyone’s late occasionally.”

    There were also two men seated at the table. We shook hands. It struck me that this was equivalent to bowing prior to a martial arts bout.

    I assessed my competition. The man who had introduced himself as Craig was about my own age but overweight, in a white business shirt that was too tight for him. He had a mustache, and his teeth were poorly maintained. The second, Danny, was probably a few years younger than me and appeared to be in good health. He wore a white T-shirt. He had tattoos on his arms and his black hair contained some form of cosmetic additive.

    The on-time woman’s name was Olivia, and she initially (and logically) divided her attention among the three men. She told us she was an anthropologist. Danny confused it with an archaeologist and then Craig made a racist joke about pygmies. It was obvious, even to me, that Olivia was unimpressed by these responses, and I enjoyed a rare moment of not feeling like the least socially competent person in the room. Olivia turned to me, and I had just responded to her question about my job when we were interrupted by the arrival of the fourth man, who introduced himself as Gerry, a lawyer, and two women, Sharon and Maria, who were, respectively, an accountant and a nurse. It was a hot night, and Maria had chosen a dress with the twin advantages of coolness and overt sexual display. Sharon was wearing the conventional corporate uniform of pants and jacket. I guessed that they were both about my age.

    Olivia resumed talking to me while the others engaged in small talk—an extraordinary waste of time when a major life decision was at stake. On Claudia’s advice, I had memorized the questionnaire. She thought that asking questions directly from the forms could create the wrong “dynamic” and that I should attempt to incorporate them subtly into conversation. Subtlety, I had reminded her, is not my strength. She suggested that I not ask about sexually transmitted diseases and that I make my own estimates of weight, height, and body mass index. I estimated Olivia’s BMI at nineteen: slim, but no signs of anorexia. I estimated Sharon the Accountant’s at twenty-three, and Maria the Nurse’s at twenty-eight. The recommended healthy maximum is twenty-five.

    Rather than ask about IQ, I decided to make an estimate based on Olivia’s responses to questions about the historical impact of variations in susceptibility to syphilis across native South American populations. We had a fascinating conversation, and I felt that the topic might even allow me to slip in the sexually transmitted diseases question. Her IQ was definitely above the required minimum. Gerry the Lawyer offered a few comments that I think were meant to be jokes, but eventually he left us to continue uninterrupted.

    At this point, the missing woman arrived, twenty-eight minutes late. While Olivia was distracted, I took the opportunity to record the data I had acquired so far on three of the four questionnaires in my lap. I did not waste paper on the most recent arrival, as she announced that she was “always late.” This did not seem to concern Gerry the Lawyer, who presumably billed by the six-minute interval and should consequently have considered time to be of great value. He obviously valued sex more highly, as his conversation began to resemble that of Gene.

    With the arrival of Late Woman, the waiter appeared with menus. Olivia scanned hers, then asked, “The pumpkin soup, is it made with vegetable stock?”

    I did not hear the answer. The question provided the critical information. Vegetarian.

    She may have noted my expression of disappointment. “I’m Hindu.”

    I had previously deduced that Olivia was probably Indian from her sari and physical attributes. I was not sure whether the term Hindu was being used as a genuine statement of religious belief or as an indicator of cultural heritage. I had been reprimanded for failing to make this distinction in the past.

    “Do you eat ice cream?” I asked. The question seemed appropriate after the vegetarian statement. Very neat.

    “Oh yes, I am not vegan. As long as it is not made with eggs.”

    This was not getting any better.

    “Do you have a favorite flavor?”

    “Pistachio. Very definitely pistachio.” She smiled.

    Maria and Danny had stepped outside for a cigarette. With three women eliminated, including Late Woman, my task was almost complete.

    My lamb’s brains arrived, and I cut one in half, exposing the internal structure. I tapped Sharon, who was engaged in conversation with Craig the Racist, and pointed it out to her. “Do you like brains?”

    Four down, job complete. I continued my conversation with Olivia, who was excellent company, and even ordered an additional drink after the others had departed in the pairs that they had formed. We stayed, talking, until we were the last people in the restaurant. As I put the questionnaires in my backpack, Olivia gave me her contact information, which I wrote down in order not to be rude. Then we went our separate ways.

    Cycling home, I reflected on the dinner. It had been a grossly inefficient method of selection, but the questionnaire had been of significant value. Without the questions it prompted, I would undoubtedly have attempted a second date with Olivia, who was an interesting and nice person. Perhaps we would have gone on a third and fourth and fifth date; then one day, when all the desserts at the restaurant contained egg, we would have crossed the road to the ice-cream parlor and discovered they had no egg-free pistachio. It was better to find out before we made an investment in the relationship.
     
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    I stood inside the entrance of a suburban house that reminded me of my parents’ brick-veneer residence in Shepparton. I had resolved never to attend another singles party, but the questionnaire allowed me to avoid the agony of unstructured social interaction with strangers.

    As the female guests arrived, I gave each a questionnaire to complete at their convenience and return to me either at the party or by mail. The host, a woman, initially invited me to join the crowd in the living room, but I explained my strategy and she left me alone. After two hours, a woman of about thirty-five, estimated BMI twenty-one, returned from the living room, holding two glasses of sparkling wine. In her other hand was a questionnaire.

    She passed me a glass. “I thought you might be thirsty,” she said in an attractive French accent.

    I was not thirsty, but I was pleased to be offered alcohol. I had decided that I would not give up drinking unless I found a nondrinking partner. And, after some self-analysis, I had concluded that (c) moderately was an acceptable answer to the drinking question and made a note to update the questionnaire.

    “Thank you.” I hoped she would give me the questionnaire and that it might, improbably, signal the end of my quest. She was extremely attractive, and her gesture with the wine indicated a high level of consideration not exhibited by any of the other guests or the host.

    “You are a researcher, am I right?” She tapped the questionnaire.

    “Correct.”

    “Me, also,” she said. “There are not many academics here tonight.” Although it is dangerous to draw conclusions based on manner and conversation topics, my assessment of the guests was consistent with this observation.

    “I’m Fabienne,” she said, and extended her free hand, which I shook, careful to apply the recommended level of firmness. “This is terrible wine, no?”

    I agreed. It was a carbonated sweet wine, acceptable only because of its alcohol content.

    “You think we should go to a wine bar and get something better?” she asked.

    I shook my head. The poor wine quality was annoying but not critical.

    Fabienne took a deep breath. “Listen. I have drunk two glasses of wine, I have not had sex for six weeks, and I would rather wait six more than try anyone else here. Now, can I buy you a drink?”

    It was a very kind offer. But it was still early in the evening. I said, “More guests are expected. You may find someone suitable if you wait.”

    Fabienne gave me her questionnaire and said, “I presume you will be notifying the winners in due course.” I told her that I would. When she had gone, I quickly checked her questionnaire. Predictably, she failed in a number of dimensions. It was disappointing.

    • • •

    My final non-Internet option was speed dating, an approach I had not previously tried.

    The venue was a function room in a hotel. At my insistence, the convenor disclosed the actual start time, and I waited in the bar to avoid aimless interaction until then. When I returned, I took the last remaining seat at a long table, opposite a person labeled Frances, aged approximately fifty, BMI approximately twenty-eight, not conventionally attractive.

    The convenor rang a bell and my three minutes with Frances commenced.

    I pulled out my questionnaire and scribbled her name on it—there was no time for subtlety under these circumstances.

    “I’ve sequenced the questions for maximum speed of elimination,” I explained. “I believe I can eliminate most women in less than forty seconds. Then you can choose the topic of discussion for the remaining time.”

    “But then it won’t matter,” said Frances. “I’ll have been eliminated.”

    “Only as a potential partner. We may still be able to have an interesting discussion.”

    “But I’ll have been eliminated.”

    I nodded. “Do you smoke?”

    “Occasionally,” she said.

    I put the questionnaire away.

    “Excellent.” I was pleased that my question sequencing was working so well. We could have wasted time talking about ice-cream flavors and makeup only to find that she smoked. Needless to say, smoking was not negotiable. “No more questions. What would you like to discuss?”

    Disappointingly, Frances was not interested in further conversation after I had determined that we were not compatible. This turned out to be the pattern for the remainder of the event.

    • • •

    These personal interactions were, of course, secondary. I was relying on the Internet, and completed questionnaires began to flow in shortly after my initial postings. I scheduled a review meeting in my office with Gene.

    “How many responses?” he asked.

    “Two hundred and seventy-nine.”

    He was clearly impressed. I did not tell him that the quality of responses varied widely, with many questionnaires only partially completed.

    “No photos?”

    Many women had included photos, but I had suppressed them in the database display to allow space for more important data.

    “Let’s see the photos,” Gene said.

    I modified the settings to show photos, and Gene scanned a few before double-clicking on one. The resolution was impressive. It seemed that he approved, but a quick check of the data showed that the candidate was totally unsuitable. I took the mouse back and deleted her. Gene protested.

    “Wha wha wha? What’re you doing?”

    “She believes in astrology and homeopathy. And she calculated her BMI incorrectly.”

    “What was it?”

    “Twenty-three point five.”

    “Nice. Can you undelete her?”

    “She’s totally unsuitable.”

    “How many are suitable?” asked Gene, finally getting to the point.

    “So far, zero. The questionnaire is an excellent filter.”

    “You don’t think you’re setting the bar just a tiny bit high?”

    I pointed out that I was collecting data to support life’s most critical decision. Compromise would be totally inappropriate.

    “You always have to compromise,” Gene said. An incredible statement and totally untrue in his case.

    “You found the perfect wife. Highly intelligent, extremely beautiful, and she lets you have sex with other women.”

    Gene suggested that I not congratulate Claudia in person for her tolerance, and asked me to repeat the number of questionnaires that had been completed. The actual total was greater than the number I had told him, as I had not included the paper questionnaires. Three hundred and four.

    “Give me your list,” said Gene. “I’ll pick a few out for you.”

    “None of them meet the criteria. They all have some fault.”

    “Treat it as practice.”

    He did have a point. I had thought a few times about Olivia the Indian Anthropologist and considered the implications of living with a Hindu vegetarian with a strong ice-cream preference. Only reminding myself that I should wait until an exactmatch turned up had stopped me from contacting her. I had even rechecked the questionnaire from Fabienne the Sex-Deprived Researcher.

    I emailed the spreadsheet to Gene.

    “No smokers.”

    “Okay,” said Gene, “but you have to ask them out. To dinner. At a proper restaurant.”

    Gene could probably tell that I was not excited by the prospect. He cleverly addressed the problem by proposing an even less acceptable alternative.

    “There’s always the faculty ball.”

    “Restaurant.”

    Gene smiled as if to compensate for my lack of enthusiasm. “It’s easy. ‘How about we do dinner tonight?’ Say it after me.”

    “How about we do dinner tonight?” I repeated.

    “See, that wasn’t so hard. Make only positive comments about their appearance. Pay for the meal. Do not mention sex.” Gene walked to the door, then turned back. “What about the paper ones?”

    I gave him my questionnaires from Table for Eight, the singles party, and, at his insistence, even the partially completed ones from the speed dating. Now it was out of my hands.
     
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    Approximately two hours after Gene left my office with the completed Wife Project questionnaires, there was a knock on the door. I was weighing student essays, an activity that is not forbidden, but I suspect only because nobody is aware that I am doing it. It was part of a project to reduce the effort of assessment by looking for easily measured parameters such as the inclusion of a table of contents or a typed versus handwritten cover sheet, factors which might provide as good an indication of quality as the tedious process of reading the entire assignment.

    I slipped the scales under my desk as the door opened, and looked up to see a woman I did not recognize standing in the doorway. I estimated her age as thirty and her body mass index at twenty.

    “Professor Tillman?”

    As my name is on the door, this was not a particularly astute question.

    “Correct.”

    “Professor Barrow suggested I see you.”

    I was amazed at Gene’s efficiency and looked at the woman more carefully as she approached my desk. There were no obvious signs of unsuitability. I did not detect any makeup. Her body shape and skin tone were consistent with health and fitness. She wore glasses with heavy frames that revived bad memories of Apricot Ice Cream Woman, a long black T-shirt that was torn in several places, and a black belt with metal chains. It was lucky that the jewelry question had been deleted, because she was wearing big metal earrings and an interesting pendant around her neck.

    Although I am usually oblivious to dress, hers seemed incompatible with my expectation of a highly qualified academic or professional and with the summer weather. I could only guess that she was self-employed or on vacation and, freed from workplace rules, had chosen her clothes randomly. I could relate to this.

    There had been quite a long gap since either of us spoke and I realized it must be my turn. I looked up from the pendant and remembered Gene’s instructions.

    “How about we do dinner tonight?”

    She seemed surprised at my question, then replied, “Yeah, right. How about we do dinner? How about Le Gavroche and you’re paying?”

    “Excellent. I’ll make a reservation for eight p.m.”

    “You’re kidding.”

    It was an odd response. Why would I make a confusing joke with someone I barely knew?

    “No. Is eight p.m. tonight acceptable?”

    “Let me get this straight. You’re offering to buy me dinner at Le Gavroche tonight?”

    Coming on top of the question about my name, I was beginning to think that this woman was what Gene would call “not the sharpest tool in the shed.” I considered backing out, or at least employing some delaying tactic until I could check her questionnaire, but could not think of any socially acceptable way to do this, so I just confirmed that she had interpreted my offer correctly. She turned and left and I realized that I did not even know her name.

    I called Gene immediately. There seemed to be some confusion on his part at first, followed by mirth. Perhaps he had not expected me to handle the candidate so effectively.

    “Her name’s Rosie,” he said. “And that’s all I’m telling you. Have fun. And remember what I said about sex.”

    Gene’s failure to provide me with more details was unfortunate, because a problem arose. Le Gavroche did not have a table available at the agreed time. I tried to locate Rosie’s profile on my computer, and for once the photos were useful. The woman who had come to my office did not look like any candidate whose name began with R. She must have been one of the paper responses. Gene had left and his phone was off.

    I was forced to take action that was not strictly illegal but doubtless immoral. I justified it on the basis that it would be more immoral to fail to meet my commitment to Rosie. Le Gavroche’s online reservation system had a facility for VIPs. I made a reservation under the name of the Dean after logging on using relatively unsophisticated hacking software.

    I arrived at 7:59 p.m. The restaurant was located in a major hotel. I chained my bike in the foyer, as it was raining heavily outside. Fortunately it was not cold and my Gore-Tex jacket had done an excellent job of protecting me. My T-shirt was not even damp underneath.

    A man in uniform approached me. He pointed toward the bike, but I spoke before he had a chance to complain.

    “My name is Professor Lawrence and I interacted with your reservation system at five eleven p.m.”

    It appeared that the official did not know the Dean or assumed that I was another Professor Lawrence, because he just checked a clipboard and nodded. I was impressed with the efficiency, though it was now 8:01 p.m. and Rosie was not there. Perhaps she was (b) a little early and already seated.

    But then a problem arose.

    “I’m sorry, sir, but we have a dress code,” said the official.

    I knew about this. It was in bold type on the website: Gentlemen are required to wear a jacket.

    “No jacket, no food, correct?”

    “More or less, sir.”

    What can I say about this sort of rule? I was prepared to keep my jacket on throughout the meal. The restaurant would presumably be air-conditioned to a temperature compatible with the requirement.

    I continued toward the restaurant entrance, but the official blocked my path. “I’m sorry. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. You need to wear a jacket.”

    “I’m wearing a jacket.”

    “I’m afraid we require something a little more formal, sir.”

    The hotel employee indicated his own jacket as an example. In defense of what followed, I submit the Oxford English Dictionary (Compact, 2nd Edition) definition of jacket: “1(a) An outer garment for the upper part of the body.”

    I also note that the word jacket appears on the care instructions for my relatively new and perfectly clean Gore-Tex jacket. But it seemed his definition of jacket was limited to “conventional suit jacket.”

    “We would be happy to lend you one, sir. In this style.”

    “You have a supply of jackets? In every possible size?” I did not add that the need to maintain such an inventory was surely evidence of their failure to communicate the rule clearly, and that it would be more efficient to improve their wording or abandon the rule altogether. Nor did I mention that the cost of jacket purchase and cleaning must add to the price of their meals. Did their customers know that they were subsidizing a jacket warehouse?

    “I wouldn’t know about that, sir,” he said. “Let me organize a jacket.”

    Needless to say I was uncomfortable at the idea of being redressed in an item of public clothing of dubious cleanliness. For a few moments, I was overwhelmed by the sheer unreasonableness of the situation. I was already under stress, preparing for the second encounter with a woman who might become my life partner. And now the institution that I was paying to supply us with a meal—the service provider who should surely be doing everything possible to make me comfortable—was putting arbitrary obstacles in my way. My Gore-Tex jacket, the high-technology garment that had protected me in rain and snowstorms, was being irrationally, unfairly, and obstructively contrasted with the official’s essentially decorative woolen equivalent. I had paid $1,015 for it, including $120 extra for the customized reflective yellow. I outlined my argument.

    “My jacket is superior to yours by all reasonable criteria: impermeability to water, visibility in low light, storage capacity.” I unzipped the jacket to display the internal pockets and continued, “Speed of drying, resistance to food stains, hood . . .”

    The official was still showing no interpretable reaction, although I had almost certainly raised my voice.

    “Vastly superior tensile strength . . .”

    To illustrate this last point, I took the lapel of the employee’s jacket in my hands. I obviously had no intention of tearing it, but I was suddenly grabbed from behind by an unknown person who attempted to throw me to the ground. I automatically responded with a safe, low-impact throw to disable him without dislodging my glasses. The term low impact applies to a martial arts practitioner who knows how to fall. This person did not and landed heavily.

    I turned to see him: he was large and angry. In order to prevent further violence, I was forced to sit on him.

    “Get the fuck off me. I’ll fucking kill you,” he said.

    On that basis, it seemed illogical to grant his request. At that point another man arrived and tried to drag me off. Concerned that Thug Number One would carry out his threat, I had no choice but to disable Thug Number Two as well. No one was seriously hurt, but it was a very awkward social situation, and I could feel my mind shutting down.

    Fortunately, Rosie arrived.

    Jacket Man said, apparently in surprise, “Rosie!”

    Obviously he knew her. She looked from him to me and said, “Professor Tillman—Don—what’s going on?”

    “You’re late,” I said. “We have a social problem.”

    “You know this man?” said Jacket Man to Rosie.

    “What do you think, I guessed his name?” Rosie sounded belligerent and I thought this might not be the best approach. Surely we should seek to apologize and leave. I was assuming we would not now be eating in the restaurant.

    A small crowd had gathered and it occurred to me that another thug might arrive, so I needed to work out a way of freeing up a hand without releasing the original two thugs. In the process one poked the other in the eye, and their anger levels increased noticeably. Jacket Man added, “He assaulted Jason.”

    Rosie replied, “Right. Poor Jason. Always the victim.” I could now see her. She was wearing a black dress without decoration, thick-soled black boots, and vast amounts of silver jewelry on her arms. Her red hair was spiky like some new species of cactus. I have heard the word stunning used to describe women, but this was the first time I had actually been stunned by one. It was not just the costume or the jewelry or any individual characteristic of Rosie herself: it was their combined effect. I was not sure if her appearance would be regarded as conventionally beautiful or even acceptable to the restaurant that had rejected my jacket. Stunning was the perfect word for it. But what she did was even more stunning. She took her phone from her bag and pointed it at us. It flashed twice. Jacket Man moved to take it from her.

    “Don’t you fucking think about it,” Rosie said. “I’m going to have so much fun with these photos that these guys will never stand on a door again. Professor teaches bouncers a lesson.”

    As Rosie was speaking, a man in a chef’s hat arrived. He spoke briefly to Jacket Man and Rosie, and on the basis that we would be permitted to leave without further harassment, Rosie asked me to release my assailants. We all got to our feet, and in keeping with tradition, I bowed, then extended my hand to the two men, who I had concluded must be security personnel. They had only been doing what they were paid for and had risked injury in the course of their duties. It seemed that they were not expecting the formalities, but then one of them laughed and shook my hand, and the other followed his example. It was a good resolution, but I no longer felt like eating at the restaurant.

    I collected my bike and we walked into the street. I expected Rosie to be angry about the incident, but she was smiling. I asked her how she knew Jacket Man.

    “I used to work there.”

    “You selected the restaurant because you were familiar with it?”

    “You could say that. I wanted to stick it up them.” She began to laugh. “Maybe not quite that much.”

    I told her that her solution was brilliant.

    “I work in a bar,” she said. “Not just a bar—the Marquess of Queensbury. I deal with jerks for a living.”

    I pointed out that if she had arrived on schedule, she could have used her social skills and the violence would have been unnecessary.

    “Glad I was late then. That was judo, right?”

    “Aikido.” As we crossed the road, I switched my bike to my other side, between Rosie and me. “I’m also proficient in karate, but aikido was more appropriate.”

    “No way. It takes forever to learn that stuff, doesn’t it?”

    “I commenced at seven.”

    “How often do you train?”

    “Three times per week, except in the case of illness, public holidays, and travel to overseas conferences.”

    “What got you into it?” asked Rosie.

    I pointed to my glasses.

    “Revenge of the nerds,” she said.

    “This is the first time I’ve required it for self-defense since I was at school. It’s primarily for fitness.” I had relaxed a little, and Rosie had provided an opportunity to slip in a question from the Wife Project questionnaire. “Do you exercise regularly?”

    “Depends what you call regularly.” She laughed. “I’m the unfittest person on the planet.”

    “Exercise is extremely important for maintaining health.”

    “So my dad tells me. He’s a personal trainer. Constantly on my case. He gave me a gym membership for my birthday. At his gym. He has this idea we should train for a triathlon together.”

    “Surely you should follow his advice,” I said.

    “Fuck, I’m almost thirty. I don’t need my dad telling me what to do.” She changed the subject. “Listen, I’m starving. Let’s get a pizza.”

    I was not prepared to consider a restaurant after the preceding trauma. I told her that I intended to revert to my original plan for the evening, which was cooking at home.

    “Got enough for two?” she asked. “You still owe me dinner.”

    This was true, but there had been too many unscheduled events already in my day.

    “Come on. I won’t criticize your cooking. I can’t cook to save my life.”

    I was not concerned about my cooking being criticized. But the lack of cooking skills on her part was the third fault so farin terms of the Wife Project questionnaire, after the late arrival and the lack of fitness. There was almost certainly a fourth: it was unlikely that her profession as waitress and barmaid was consistent with the specified intellectual level. There was no point in continuing.

    Before I could protest, Rosie had flagged down a minivan taxi with sufficient capacity for my bike.

    “Where do you live?” she asked.
     
  8. mukul
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    “Wow, Mr. Neat. How come there are no pictures on the walls?”

    I had not had visitors since Daphne moved out of the building. I knew that I only needed to put out an extra plate and cutlery. But it had already been a stressful evening, and the adrenaline-induced euphoria that had immediately followed the Jacket Incident had evaporated, at least on my part. Rosie seemed to be in a permanently manic state.

    We were in the living area, which adjoins the kitchen.

    “Because after a while I would stop noticing them. The human brain is wired to focus on differences in its environment—so it can rapidly discern a predator. If I installed pictures or other decorative objects, I would notice them for a few days and then my brain would ignore them. If I want to see art, I go to the gallery. The paintings there are of higher quality, and the total expenditure over time is less than the purchase price of cheap posters.” In fact, I had not been to an art gallery since the tenth of May, three years before. But this information would weaken my argument and I saw no reason to share it with Rosie and open up other aspects of my personal life to interrogation.

    Rosie had moved on and was now examining my CD collection. The investigation was becoming annoying. Dinner was already late.

    “You really love Bach,” she said. This was a reasonable deduction, as my CD collection consists only of the works of that composer. But it was not correct.

    “I decided to focus on Bach after reading Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. Unfortunately I haven’t made much progress. I don’t think my brain works fast enough to decode the patterns in the music.”

    “You don’t listen to it for fun?”

    This was beginning to sound like the initial dinner conversations with Daphne and I didn’t answer.

    “You’ve got an iPhone?” she said.

    “Of course, but I don’t use it for music. I download podcasts.”

    “Let me guess—on genetics.”

    “Science in general.”

    I moved to the kitchen to begin dinner preparation and Rosie followed me, stopping to look at my whiteboard schedule.

    “Wow,” she said, again. This reaction was becoming predictable. I wondered what her response to DNA or evolution would be.

    I commenced retrieval of vegetables and herbs from the refrigerator. “Let me help,” she said. “I can chop or something.” The implication was that chopping could be done by an inexperienced person unfamiliar with the recipe. After her comment that she was unable to cook even in a life-threatening situation, I had visions of huge chunks of leek and fragments of herbs too fine to sieve out.

    “No assistance is required,” I said. “I recommend reading a book.”

    I watched Rosie walk to the bookshelf, briefly peruse the contents, then walk away. Perhaps she used IBM rather than Apple software, although many of the manuals applied to both.

    The sound system has an iPod port that I use to play podcasts while I cook. Rosie plugged in her phone, and music emanated from the speakers. It was not loud, but I was certain that if I had put on a podcast without asking permission when visiting someone’s house, I would have been accused of a social error. Very certain, as I had made this exact mistake at a dinner party four years and sixty-seven days ago.

    Rosie continued her exploration, like an animal in a new environment, which of course was what she was. She opened the blinds and raised them, creating some dust. I consider myself fastidious in my cleaning, but I do not need to open the blinds and there must have been dust in places not reachable without doing so. Behind the blinds are doors, and Rosie released the bolts and opened them.

    I was feeling very uncomfortable at this violation of my personal environment. I tried to concentrate on food preparation as Rosie stepped out of sight onto the balcony. I could hear her dragging the two big potted plants, which presumably were dead after all these years. I put the herb and vegetable mixture in the large saucepan with the water, salt, rice wine vinegar, mirin, orange peel, and coriander seeds.

    “I don’t know what you’re cooking,” Rosie called out, “but I’m basically vegetarian.”

    Vegetarian! I had already commenced cooking! Based on ingredients purchased on the assumption that I would be eating alone. And what did “basically” mean? Did it imply some limited level of flexibility, like my colleague Esther, who admitted, only under rigorous questioning, that she would eat pork if necessary to survive?

    Vegetarians and vegans can be incredibly annoying. Gene has a joke: “How can you tell if someone is a vegan? Just wait ten minutes and they’ll tell you.” If this were so, it would not be so much of a problem. No! Vegetarians arrive for dinner and then say, “I don’t eat meat.” This was the second time. The Pig’s Trotter Disaster had happened six years ago, when Gene suggested that I invite a woman to dinner at my apartment. He argued that my cooking expertise would make me more desirable and I would not have to deal with the pressure of a restaurant environment. “And you can drink as much as you like and stagger to the bedroom.”

    The woman’s name was Bethany, and her Internet profile did not mention vegetarianism. Realizing that the quality of the meal would be critical, I borrowed a recently published book of “nose to tail” recipes from the library and planned a multicourse meal featuring various parts of the animal: brains, tongue, mesentery, pancreas, kidneys, etc.

    Bethany arrived on time and seemed very pleasant. We had a glass of wine, and then things went downhill. We started with fried pig’s trotter, which had been quite complex to prepare, and Bethany ate very little of hers.

    “I’m not big on pig’s trotters,” she said. This was not entirely unreasonable: we all have preferences and perhaps she was concerned about fat and cholesterol. But when I outlined the courses to follow, she declared herself to be a vegetarian. Unbelievable!

    She offered to buy dinner at a restaurant, but having spent so much time in preparation, I did not want to abandon the food. I ate alone and did not see Bethany again.

    Now Rosie. In this case it might be a good thing. Rosie could leave and life would return to normal. She had obviously not filled in the questionnaire honestly, or Gene had made an error. Or possibly he had selected her for her high level of sexual attractiveness, imposing his own preferences on me.

    Rosie came back inside, looking at me, as if expecting a response. “Seafood is okay,” she said. “If it’s sustainable.”

    I had mixed feelings. It is always satisfying to have the solution to a problem, but now Rosie would be staying for dinner. I walked to the bathroom, and Rosie followed. I picked up the lobster from the bath, where it had been crawling around.

    “Oh shit,” said Rosie.

    “You don’t like lobster?” I carried it back to the kitchen.

    “I love lobster but . . .”

    The problem was now obvious and I could sympathize.

    “You find the killing process unpleasant. Agreed.”

    I put the lobster in the freezer and explained to Rosie that I had researched lobster-execution methods, and the freezer method was considered the most humane. I gave her a website reference.

    While the lobster died, Rosie continued her sniffing around. She opened the pantry and seemed impressed with its level of organization: one shelf for each day of the week, plus storage spaces for common resources, alcohol, breakfast, etc., and stock data on the back of the door.

    “You want to come and sort out my place?”

    “You want to implement the Standardized Meal System?” Despite its substantial advantages, most people consider it odd.

    “Just cleaning out the refrigerator would do,” she said. “I’m guessing you want Tuesday ingredients?”

    I informed her that, as today was Tuesday, no guessing was required.

    She handed me the nori sheets and bonito flakes. I requested macadamia nut oil, sea salt, and the pepper grinder from the common resources area.

    “Chinese rice wine,” I added. “Filed under alcohol.”

    “Naturally,” said Rosie.

    She passed me the wine, then began looking at the other bottles in the alcohol section. I purchase my wine in half bottles.

    “So, you cook this same meal every Tuesday, right?”

    “Correct.” I listed the eight major advantages of the Standardized Meal System.

    1. No need to accumulate recipe books.

    2. Standard shopping list—hence very efficient shopping.

    3. Almost zero waste—nothing in the refrigerator or pantry unless required for one of the recipes.

    4. Diet planned and nutritionally balanced in advance.

    5. No time wasted wondering what to cook.

    6. No mistakes, no unpleasant surprises.

    7. Excellent food, superior to most restaurants at a much lower price (see point 3).

    8. Minimal cognitive load required.

    “Cognitive load?”

    “The cooking procedures are in my cerebellum—virtually no conscious effort is required.”

    “Like riding a bike.”

    “Correct.”

    “You can make lobster whatever without thinking?”

    “Lobster, mango, and avocado salad with wasabi-coated flying fish roe and crispy seaweed and deep-fried leek garnish. Correct. My current project is quail boning. It still requires conscious effort.”

    Rosie was laughing. It brought back memories of school days. Good ones.

    As I retrieved additional ingredients for the dressing from the refrigerator, Rosie brushed past me with two half bottles of Chablis and put them in the freezer with the lobster.

    “Our dinner seems to have stopped moving.”

    “Further time is required to be certain of death,” I said. “Unfortunately, the Jacket Incident has disrupted the preparation schedule. All times will need to be recalculated.” I realized at this point that I should have put the lobster in the freezer as soon as we arrived home, but my brain had been overloaded by the problems created by Rosie’s presence. I went to the whiteboard and started writing up revised preparation times. Rosie was examining the ingredients.

    “You were going to eat all this by yourself?”

    I had not revised the Standardized Meal System since Daphne’s departure, and now ate the lobster salad by myself on Tuesdays, deleting the wine to compensate for the additional calorie intake.

    “The quantity is sufficient for two,” I said. “The recipe can’t be scaled down. It’s infeasible to purchase a fraction of a live lobster.” I had intended the last part as a mild joke, and Rosie reacted by laughing. I had another unexpected moment of feeling good as I continued recalculating times.

    Rosie interrupted again. “If you were on your usual schedule, what time would it be now?”

    “Six thirty-eight p.m.”

    The clock on the oven showed 9:09 p.m. Rosie located the controls and started adjusting the time. I realized what she was doing. A perfect solution. When she was finished, it showed 6:38 p.m. No recalculations required. I congratulated her on her thinking. “You’ve created a new time zone. Dinner will be ready at eight fifty-five p.m.—Rosie time.”

    “Beats doing the math,” she said.

    Her observation gave me an opportunity for another Wife Project question. “Do you find mathematics difficult?”

    She laughed. “It’s only the single hardest part of what I do. Drives me nuts.”

    If the simple arithmetic of bar and restaurant bills was beyond her, it was hard to imagine how we could have meaningful discussions.

    “Where do you hide the corkscrew?” she asked.

    “Wine is not scheduled for Tuesdays.”

    “Fuck that,” said Rosie.

    There was a certain logic underlying Rosie’s response. I would only be eating a single serving of dinner. It was the final step in the abandonment of the evening’s schedule.

    I announced the change. “Time has been redefined. Previous rules no longer apply. Alcohol is hereby declared mandatory in the Rosie Time Zone.”
     
  9. mukul
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    As I completed dinner preparation, Rosie set the table—not the conventional dining table in the living room, but a makeshift table on the balcony, created by taking a whiteboard from the kitchen wall and placing it on top of the two big plant pots, from which the dead plants had been removed. A white sheet from the linen cupboard had been added in the role of tablecloth. Silver cutlery—a housewarming gift from my parents that had never been used—and the decorative wineglasses were on the table. She was destroying my apartment!

    It had never occurred to me to eat on the balcony. The rain from early in the evening had cleared when I came outside with the food, and I estimated the temperature at twenty-two degrees Celsius.

    “Do we have to eat right away?” asked Rosie, an odd question, since she had claimed that she was starving some hours ago.

    “No, it won’t get cold. It’s already cold.” I was conscious of sounding awkward. “Is there some reason to delay?”

    “The city lights. The view’s amazing.”

    “Unfortunately it’s static. Once you’ve examined it, there’s no reason to look again. Like paintings.”

    “But it changes all the time. What about in the early morning? Or when it rains? What about coming up here just to sit?”

    I had no answer that was likely to satisfy her. I had seen the view when I bought the apartment. It did not change much in different conditions. And the only times I just sat were when I was waiting for an appointment or if I was reflecting on a problem, in which case interesting surroundings would be a distraction.

    I moved into the space beside Rosie and refilled her glass. She smiled. She was almost certainly wearing lipstick.

    I attempt to produce a standard, repeatable meal, but obviously ingredients vary in their quality from week to week. Today’s seemed to be of an unusually high standard. The lobster salad had never tasted so good.

    I remembered the basic rule of asking a woman to talk about herself. Rosie had already raised the topic of dealing with difficult customers in a bar, so I asked her to elaborate. This was an excellent move. She had a number of hilarious stories, and I noted some interpersonal techniques for possible future use.

    We finished the lobster. Then Rosie opened her bag and pulled out a pack of cigarettes! How can I convey my horror? Smoking is not only unhealthy in itself and dangerous to others in the vicinity, it is a clear indication of an irrational approach to life. There was a good reason for its being the first item on my questionnaire.

    Rosie must have noticed my shock. “Relax. We’re outside.”

    There was no point in arguing. I would not be seeing her again after tonight. The lighter flamed and she held it to the cigarette between her artificially red lips.

    “Anyhow, I’ve got a genetics question,” she said.

    “Proceed.” I was back in the world I knew.

    “Someone told me you can tell if a person’s monogamous by the size of their testicles.”

    The sexual aspects of biology regularly feature in the popular press, so this was not as stupid a statement as it might appear, although it embodied a typical misconception. It occurred to me that it could be some sort of code for a sexual advance, but I decided to play safe and respond to the question literally.

    “Ridiculous,” I said.

    Rosie seemed very pleased with my answer.

    “You’re a star,” she said. “I’ve just won a bet.”

    I proceeded to elaborate and noted that Rosie’s expression of satisfaction faded. I guessed that she had oversimplified her question and that my more detailed explanation was in fact what she had been told.

    “There may be some correlation at the individual level, but the rule applies to species. Homo sapiens are basically monogamous but tactically unfaithful. Males benefit from impregnating as many females as possible but are able to support only one set of offspring. Females seek maximum-quality genes for their children plus a male to support them.”

    I was just settling into the familiar role of lecturer when Rosie interrupted.

    “What about the testicles?”

    “Bigger testicles produce more semen. Monogamous species require only the amount sufficient for their mate. Humans needextra to take advantage of random opportunities and to attack the sperm of recent intruders.”

    “Nice,” said Rosie.

    “Not really. The behavior evolved in the ancestral environment. The modern world requires additional rules.”

    “Yeah,” said Rosie. “Like being there for your kids.”

    “Correct. But instincts are incredibly powerful.”

    “Tell me about it,” said Rosie.

    I began to explain. “Instinct is an expression of—”

    “Rhetorical question,” said Rosie. “I’ve lived it. My mother went gene shopping at her medical graduation party.”

    “These behaviors are unconscious. People don’t deliberately—”

    “I get that.”

    I doubted it. Nonprofessionals frequently misinterpret the findings of evolutionary psychology. But the story was interesting.

    “You’re saying your mother engaged in unprotected sex outside her primary relationship?”

    “With some other student,” replied Rosie. “While she was dating my”—at this point Rosie raised her hands and made a downward movement, twice, with the index and middle fingers of both hands—“father. My real dad’s a doctor. I just don’t know which one. Really, really pisses me off.”

    I was fascinated by the hand movements and silent for a while as I tried to work them out. Were they a sign of distress at not knowing who her father was? If so, it was not one I was familiar with. And why had she chosen to punctuate her speech at that point . . . of course! Punctuation!

    “Quotation marks,” I said aloud as the idea hit me.

    “What?”

    “You made quotation marks around ‘father’ to draw attention to the fact that the word should not be interpreted in the usual way. Very clever.”

    “Well, there you go,” she said. “And there I was thinking you were reflecting on my minor problem with my whole fucking life. And might have something intelligent to say.”

    I corrected her. “It’s not a minor problem at all!” I pointed my finger in the air to indicate an exclamation mark. “You should insist on being informed.” I stabbed the same finger to indicate a full stop. This was quite fun.

    “My mother’s dead. She died in a car accident when I was ten. She never told anyone who my father was—not even Phil.”

    “Phil?” I couldn’t think of how to indicate a question mark and decided to drop the game temporarily. This was no time for experimentation.

    “My”—hands up, fingers wiggled—“father. Who’d go apeshit if I told him I wanted to know.”

    Rosie drank the remaining wine in her glass and refilled it. The second half bottle was now empty. Her story was sad but not uncommon. Although my parents continued to make routine, ritual contact, it was my assessment that they had lost interest in me some years ago. Their duty had been completed when I was able to support myself. Her situation was somewhat different, however, as it involved a stepfather. I offered a genetic interpretation.

    “His behavior is completely predictable. You don’t have his genes. Male lions kill the cubs from previous matings when they take over a pride.”

    “Thanks for that information.”

    “I can recommend some further reading if you are interested. You seem quite intelligent for a barmaid.”

    “The compliments just keep on coming.”

    It seemed I was doing well, and I allowed myself a moment of satisfaction, which I shared with Rosie.

    “Excellent. I’m not proficient at dating. There are so many rules to remember.”

    “You’re doing okay,” she said. “Except for staring at my boobs.”

    This was disappointing feedback. Rosie’s dress was quite revealing, but I had been working hard to maintain eye contact.

    “I was just examining your pendant,” I said. “It’s extremely interesting.”

    Rosie immediately covered it with her hand. “What’s on it?”

    “An image of Isis with an inscription: Sum omnia quae fuerunt suntque eruntque ego. ‘I am all that has been, is, and will be.’ ” I hoped I had read the Latin correctly; the writing was very small.

    Rosie seemed impressed. “What about the pendant I had on this morning?”

    “Dagger with three small red stones and four white ones.”

    Rosie finished her wine. She seemed to be thinking about something. It turned out not to be anything profound.

    “Want to get another bottle?”

    I was a little stunned. We had already drunk the recommended maximum amount. On the other hand, she smoked, so obviously she had a careless attitude to health.

    “You want more alcohol?”

    “Correct,” she said, in an odd voice. She may have been mimicking me.

    I went to the kitchen to select another bottle, deciding to reduce the next day’s alcohol intake to compensate. Then I saw the clock: 11:40 p.m. I picked up the phone and ordered a taxi. With any luck it would arrive before the after-midnight tariff commenced. I opened a half bottle of Shiraz to drink while we waited.

    Rosie wanted to continue the conversation about her biological father.

    “Do you think there might be some sort of genetic motivation? That it’s built into us to want to know who our parents are?”

    “It’s critical for parents to be able to recognize their own children. So they can protect the carriers of their genes. Small children need to be able to locate their parents to get that protection.”

    “Maybe it’s some sort of carryover from that.”

    “It seems unlikely. But possible. Our behavior is strongly affected by instinct.”

    “So you said. Whatever it is, it eats me up. Messes with my head.”

    “Why don’t you ask the candidates?”

    “ ‘Dear Doctor. Are you my father?’ I don’t think so.”

    An obvious thought occurred to me, obvious because I am a geneticist.

    “Your hair is a very unusual color. Possibly—”

    She laughed. “There aren’t any genes for this shade of red.”

    She must have seen that I was confused.

    “This color only comes out of a bottle.”

    I realized what she was saying. She had deliberately dyed her hair an unnaturally bright color. Incredible. It hadn’t even occurred to me to include hair dyeing on the questionnaire. I made a mental note to do so.

    The doorbell buzzed. I had not mentioned the taxi to her, so brought her up-to-date with my plan. She quickly finished her wine, then stuck her hand out, and it seemed to me that I was not the only one feeling awkward.

    “Well,” she said, “it’s been an evening. Have a good life.”

    It was a nonstandard way of saying good night. I thought it safer to stick with convention.

    “Good night. I’ve really enjoyed this evening.” I added “Good luck finding your father” to the formula.

    “Thanks.”

    Then she left.

    I was agitated, but not in a bad way. It was more a case of sensory overload. I was pleased to find some wine left in the bottle. I poured it into my glass and phoned Gene. Claudia answered and I dispensed with pleasantries.

    “I need to speak with Gene.”

    “He’s not home,” said Claudia. She sounded disoriented. Perhaps she had been drinking. “I thought he was having lobster with you.”

    “Gene sent me the world’s most incompatible woman. A barmaid. Late, vegetarian, disorganized, irrational, unhealthy, smoker—smoker!—psychological problems, can’t cook, mathematically incompetent, unnatural hair color. I presume he was making a joke.”

    Claudia must have interpreted this as a statement of distress because she said, “Are you all right, Don?”

    “Of course,” I said. “She was highly entertaining. But totally unsuitable for the Wife Project.” As I said these words, indisputably factual, I felt a twinge of regret at odds with my intellectual assessment. Claudia interrupted my attempt to reconcile the conflicting brain states.

    “Don, do you know what time it is?”

    I wasn’t wearing a watch. And then I realized my error. I had used the kitchen clock as my reference when phoning the taxi.The clock that Rosie had reset. It must have been almost 2:30 a.m. How could I have lost track of time like that? It was a severe lesson in the dangers of messing with the schedule. Rosie would be paying the after-midnight tariff on the taxi.

    I let Claudia return to sleep. As I picked up the two plates and two glasses to bring them inside, I looked again at the nighttime view of the city—the view I had never seen before even though it had been there all the time.

    I decided to skip my pre-bed aikido routine. And to leave the makeshift table in place.
     
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    nine
    “I threw her in as a wild card,” said Gene, when I woke him up from the unscheduled sleep he was taking under his desk the next day.

    Gene looked terrible and I told him he should refrain from staying up so late—although for once I had been guilty of the same error. It was important that he eat lunch at the correct time to get his circadian rhythm back on schedule. He had a packed lunch from home, and we headed for a grassy area in the university grounds. I collected seaweed salad, miso soup, and an apple from the Japanese café on the way.

    It was a fine day. Unfortunately this meant that there were a number of females in brief clothing sitting on the grass and walking by to distract Gene. Gene is fifty-six years old, although that information is not supposed to be disclosed. At that age, his testosterone should have fallen to a level where his sex drive was significantly reduced. It is my theory that his unusually high focus on sex is due to mental habit. But human physiology varies, and he may be an exception.

    Conversely, I think Gene believes I have an abnormally low sex drive. This is not true; rather I am not as skilled as Gene in expressing it in a socially appropriate way. My occasional attempts to imitate Gene have been unsuccessful in the extreme.

    We found a bench to sit on and Gene commenced his explanation.

    “She’s someone I know,” he said.

    “No questionnaire?”

    “No questionnaire.”

    This explained the smoking. In fact, it explained everything. Gene had reverted to the inefficient practice of recommending acquaintances for dates. My expression must have conveyed my annoyance.

    “You’re wasting your time with the questionnaire. You’d be better off measuring the length of their earlobes.”

    Sexual attraction is Gene’s area of expertise. “There’s a correlation?” I asked.

    “People with long earlobes are more likely to choose partners with long earlobes. It’s a better predictor than IQ.”

    This was incredible, but much behavior that developed in the ancestral environment seems incredible when considered in the context of the current world. Evolution has not kept up. But earlobes! Could there be a more irrational basis for a relationship? No wonder marriages fail.

    “So, did you have fun?” asked Gene.

    I informed him that his question was irrelevant: my goal was to find a partner and Rosie was patently unsuitable. Gene had caused me to waste an evening.

    “But did you have fun?” he repeated.

    Did he expect a different answer to the same question? To be fair, I had not given him a proper answer, but for a good reason. I had not had time to reflect on the evening and determine a proper response. I guessed that “fun” was going to be an oversimplification of a very complex experience.

    I provided Gene with a summary of events. As I related the story of the dinner on the balcony, Gene interrupted. “If you see her again—”

    “There is zero reason for me to see her again.”

    “If you see her again,” Gene continued, “it’s probably not a good idea to mention the Wife Project. Since she didn’t measure up.”

    Ignoring the incorrect assumption about seeing Rosie again, this seemed like good advice.

    At that point, the conversation changed direction dramatically, and I did not have an opportunity to find out how Gene had met Rosie. The reason for the change was Gene’s sandwich. He took a bite, then called out in pain and snatched my water bottle.

    “Oh shit. Oh shit. Claudia put chilies in my sandwich.”

    It was difficult to see how Claudia could make an error of this kind. But the priority was to reduce the pain. Chili is insoluble in water, so drinking from my bottle would not be effective. I advised him to find some oil. We headed back to the Japanese café and were not able to have any further conversation about Rosie. However, I had the basic information I needed. Gene had selected a woman without reference to the questionnaire. To see her again would be in total contradiction to the rationale for the Wife Project.

    Riding home, I reconsidered. I could see three reasons that it might be necessary to see Rosie again.

    1. Good experimental design requires the use of a control group. It would be interesting to use Rosie as a benchmark to compare with women selected by the questionnaire.

    2. The questionnaire had not produced any matches to date. I could interact with Rosie in the meantime.

    3. As a geneticist with access to DNA analysis, and the knowledge to interpret it, I was in a position to help Rosie find her biological father.

    Reasons 1 and 2 were invalid. Rosie was clearly not a suitable life partner. There was no point in interaction with someone so patently inappropriate. But reason 3 deserved consideration. Using my skills to assist her in a search for important knowledge aligned with my life purpose. I could do it in the time set aside for the Wife Project until a suitable candidate emerged.

    In order to proceed, I needed to reestablish contact with Rosie. I did not want to tell Gene that I planned to see her again so soon after telling him that the probability of my doing so was zero. Fortunately, I recalled the name of the bar she worked at: the Marquess of Queensbury.

    There was only one bar of that name, in a back street of an inner suburb. I had already modified the day’s schedule, canceling my market trip to catch up on the lost sleep. I would purchase a ready-made dinner instead. I am sometimes accused of being inflexible, but I think this demonstrates an ability to adapt to even the strangest of circumstances.

    I arrived at 7:04 p.m. only to find that the bar did not open until 9:00 p.m. Incredible. No wonder people make mistakes at work. Would it be full of surgeons and flight controllers, drinking until after midnight before working the same day?

    I ate dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant. By the time I had worked my way through the banquet and returned to the bar, it was 9:27 p.m. There was a security official at the door, and I prepared myself for a repeat of the previous night. He examined me carefully, then asked, “Do you know what sort of place this is?”

    I am quite familiar with bars, perhaps even more familiar than most people. When I travel to conferences, I generally find a pleasant bar near my hotel and eat and drink there every evening. I replied in the affirmative and entered.

    I wondered if I had come to the right location. The most obvious characteristic of Rosie was that she was female, and the patrons at the Marquess of Queensbury were without exception male. Many were wearing unusual costumes, and I took a few minutes to examine the range. Two men noted me looking at them and one smiled broadly and nodded. I smiled back. It seemed to be a friendly place.

    But I was there to find Rosie. I walked to the bar. The two men followed and sat on either side of me. The clean-shaven one was wearing a cut-off T-shirt and clearly spent time at the gym. Steroids could also have been involved. The one with the mustache wore a leather costume and a black cap.

    “I haven’t seen you here before,” said Black Cap.

    I gave him the simple explanation. “I haven’t been here before.”

    “Can I buy you a drink?”

    “You’re offering to buy my drink?” It was an unusual proposition from a stranger, and I guessed that I would be expected to reciprocate in some way.

    “I think that’s what I said,” said Black Cap. “What can we tempt you with?”

    I told him that the flavor didn’t matter, as long as it contained alcohol. As in most social situations, I was nervous.

    Then Rosie appeared from the other side of the bar, dressed conventionally for her role in a collared black shirt. I was hugely relieved. I had come to the correct place and she was on duty. Black Cap waved to her. He ordered three Budweisers. Then Rosie saw me.

    “Don.”

    “Greetings.”

    Rosie looked at us and asked, “Are you guys together?”

    “Give us a few minutes,” said Steroid Man.

    Rosie said, “I think Don’s here to see me.”

    “Correct.”

    “Well, pardon us interrupting your social life with drinks orders,” Black Cap said to Rosie.

    “You could use DNA,” I said.

    Rosie clearly didn’t follow, owing to lack of context. “What?”

    “To identify your father. DNA is the obvious approach.”

    “Sure,” said Rosie. “Obvious. ‘Please send me your DNA so I can see if you’re my father.’ Forget it, I was just mouthing off.”

    “You could collect it.” I wasn’t sure how Rosie would respond to the next part of my suggestion. “Surreptitiously.”

    Rosie went silent. She was at least considering the idea. Or perhaps wondering whether to report me. Her response supported the first possibility. “And who’s going to analyze it?”

    “I’m a geneticist.”

    “You’re saying if I got a sample, you could analyze it for me?”

    “Trivial,” I said. “How many samples do we need to test?”

    “Probably only one. I’ve got a pretty good idea. He’s a family friend.”

    Steroid Man coughed loudly, and Rosie fetched two beers from the refrigerator. Black Cap put a twenty-dollar bill on the counter, but Rosie pushed it back and waved them away.

    I tried the cough trick myself. Rosie took a moment to interpret the message this time, but then got me a beer.

    “What do you need?” she asked. “To test the DNA?”

    I explained that normally we would use scrapings from the inner cheek, but that it would be impractical to obtain these without the subject’s knowledge. “Blood is excellent, but skin scrapings, mucus, urine—”

    “Pass,” said Rosie.

    “—fecal material, semen—”

    “It keeps getting better,” said Rosie. “I can screw a sixty-year-old family friend in the hope that he turns out to be my father.”

    I was shocked. “You’d have sex—”

    Rosie explained that she was making a joke. On such a serious matter! It was getting busy around the bar, and there were a lot of cough signals happening. An effective way to spread disease. Rosie wrote a telephone number on a piece of paper.

    “Call me.”
     

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