“May I join you?”
I was sitting in my favorite booth in my favorite coffee shop, staring vacantly at movie listings on my phone, and looked up to see an old man patiently awaiting my response. It wasn’t that there was nowhere else to sit, it was three in the afternoon and the business crowd had long gone back to work. He seemed to have specifically targeted me, rather than the few other stragglers dotted around the room.
“Umm, sure, have a seat.” I nodded towards the seat opposite, then quickly focused back onto my phone, hoping he would leave me alone. As he sat, he extended his hand.
“Hello Ted, very nice to meet you. My friends call me The Professor.”
“Oh!” He knew my name. I couldn’t imagine where I might have met him in the past. “I… I’m sorry, I’m really awful with faces. Do I know you from somewhere?” I half-heartedly shook his hand. He was dressed oddly in an old tweed jacket, waistcoat and white shirt with a burgundy bow tie, all neat and clean. He actually blended in quite well with the ‘50s décor.
“No, we’ve never met, but I have something to discuss that I think you will find most interesting. You might say life changing.” He beamed a somewhat disarming smile.
Lucky me. Had I just invited a Jehovah’s Witness, or, please no… an insurance salesman, to join me for lunch? Was he going to ask for money? Or perhaps an elaborate scam was about to unfold. Well good luck with that, Professor.
Before he could begin changing my life, Sally came over and laid out another place setting. She seemed a little curious herself as to why the old man had sat himself down opposite me.
“What can I get for you, sir?”
“Just a cup of coffee please, Sally. No cream. Thank you.”
She ambled off and I was already mellowing a little to the professor. I was a sucker for politeness. Did he know Sally as well? He probably just noticed her nametag.
“So, Ted, I expect you are a little curious. Well let me assure you right away that my only purpose for being here is to help you, and at the same time, you will be helping me. I won’t be asking you for money, or trying to convince you to change religions or anything like that, and although what I tell you will sound too good to be true”, he emphasized that part with air quotes, something I hadn’t seen anyone do for a long while, “I assure you it is true.”
It seemed uncanny the way the professor had read my mind so perfectly, confronting head-on any ideas I had about this being a scam. He almost had me questioning my opinion of psychics, which was not one of admiration. Nevertheless, my friends didn’t call me Mr. Cynical for nothing, so now I was fairly certain that it was a scam.
“Please, carry on Professor. I can’t wait to hear this.” My sarcasm was quite apparent, but he appeared unfazed and gave me an understanding nod. It was becoming quite difficult not to like him.
“I know you’ve been looking for the right girl for a long time now, Ted.” He paused briefly, seemingly for dramatic effect. “I can give you that girl.”
I had a sudden flashback to my own May I join you incident, six years ago, back in 2011. I still remember it vividly. It was the day I had stutteringly asked a really attractive girl in a coffee shop (not the same coffee shop of course, I had never again dared go back to that one) if I could join her for lunch. I had just finished reading yet another self-help book, this one about confronting your fears, with the final exercise being to talk to a stranger. Perhaps I misunderstood that the stranger shouldn’t necessarily be a supermodel, but the book assured me it would all turn out just fine. Her reply assured me that it would not. “Oh…, no…, I, I’m waiting for someone.” She immediately diverted her eyes down, fixating on her cutlery as best she could. Her meal came and she ate it, alone, while I was seated just a couple of tables down, facing her the whole mortifying time. I felt terrible to have put her in that awkward situation.
“How do you mean give me that girl, Professor? Do you have someone in mind you think I might like?”
“Oh, you’ll like her alright. She will be the girl of your dreams.” The old man chuckled as if he had just told the funniest joke ever.
Now I understood. This Professor had observed my frequent visits to the coffee shop, heard Sally say my name, and maybe overheard some of our conversations. He probably had a granddaughter, or maybe a niece, saw that I was always alone, and was about to set me up on a blind date. Reluctantly I had to give up on this being a con, now leaning heavily towards the date possibility.
“OK, I’m game, I’ll date anybody once. You can give me her number if you like.” That was another lesson from my self-help books, never to turn down an opportunity, as you never knew where it might lead.
Sally arrived with my fresh turkey on wheat and the professor’s coffee. I got to work on the sandwich.
“Oh no my boy, nothing like that. You are going to design her and then I am going to deliver her to you.”
“I’m sorry, I’m still not quite following what you are saying. You mean this is some sort of dating service?” Any thoughts of a peaceful lunch were fast disappearing.
“Well I suppose you could call it a dating service, only much better.” The professor laughed again. He was finding this all quite amusing.
“So I tell you what I’m looking for, and you’ll find me a girl who you think will be my perfect match?”
“No. I won’t think she is your perfect match, she will be your perfect match.” He emphasized the be as if he was quite sure of himself. “I will create her for you, exactly to your specifications.”
At that point, my eyes previously focused more on my sandwich than on the professor, darted upwards and my attention was now directed exclusively towards him. I took a moment to observe him more carefully. He appeared to be about 75, physically fit and with good posture. He still had a fine head of silver hair, and if it hadn’t been for his skin looking rather weathered and wrinkled, I might have thought him to be quite a bit younger. I noticed the pocket watch peeping out from his waistcoat pocket, with an old gold chain attached. I couldn’t place his accent, American probably, but definitely not New York. Maybe even a little European. He had a natural jovial manner about him that any department store Santa would envy.
“So if I am understanding you correctly, you want me to design my perfect girlfriend, and then you will make her magically appear?”
“Yes, yes, exactly. And if you are ever not happy with her you will be able to make changes to her, whenever you want, although I definitely do not recommend it.”
I looked for some clue to let me know he was making a joke, but none came and I felt a little disappointed. I really thought he had a girl to introduce to me. He was just a crazy old man, and I wouldn’t be meeting my dream girl today. It was time to send him on his way.
“Well Professor, I’ve never had a girlfriend I could change in the slightest, so that is too tempting an offer to turn down. Sure, why not.”
With that, he handed me a business card, we bid our farewells, and he was gone as suddenly as he had appeared, coffee untouched, and a crisp $5 bill neatly laid out on the table.
This was fast becoming an interesting week. A couple of days earlier, I had given blood for the first time, feeling guilty after someone slid a flyer under my door. I had made it to the mobile clinic right before they closed, and then fainted during the procedure, apparently out cold for a couple of minutes. They told me not to worry about it, that it wasn’t that uncommon and I may have just been dehydrated. Still, it did give me a bit of a scare.
I slipped the business card into my shirt pocket, quickly finished up my sandwich, and rushed off to the movie theatre to see The Lady Vanishes, a British classic that I had been looking forward to.
The professor was right about one thing, I had been looking for the right girl for a long time. Thirty years old and watching as all my friends settled down, but I could never commit. Although I had always considered myself completely average, and a little nerdy, I had dated some extremely good-looking girls. I suppose my being fairly tall and naturally thin helped somewhat. One girlfriend even told me I looked a bit like Superman, I guess because of my thick dark wavy hair and steel blue eyes, but I couldn’t see any resemblance whatsoever, and I couldn’t fly. Maybe if she had said Clark Kent I might have believed her more. That was much more my style, blending in like the nondescript waiter who scurries around unnoticed in the background of movies. Any advantage my looks might have given me were dwarfed by my lack of self confidence, probably brought about by my messed up childhood at the hands of my now thankfully absent stepfather, who never missed an opportunity to remind me that I would amount to nothing.
I had been on so many failed dates now that my well-meaning friends had long since given up on matchmaking. They would introduce me to their friends and work buddies, they would have parties where the unspoken agenda was to find Ted a girl, and they would send me on many a blind date. But in the end, it was all for naught. I had even tried the old classic of taking evening classes to meet someone with similar interests, but it turned out the only similar interest we all seemed to share was in finding someone who wasn’t taking the class. And I had tried all of the online dating services. I had a favorite line for the section called Your perfect first date; I would write My perfect first date would be to spend the whole day with you shoe shopping, then take you to a really expensive restaurant where I would sit and listen intently as you talk about yourself all night. It seemed to work; most girls would find it amusing, and those who didn’t wouldn’t have been right for me anyway.
No, the problem was that I wanted the perfect girl, and I refused to settle. I would rather stay single and alone, than be with someone who didn’t live up to my vision of my dream girl. It’s not that I had a particularly long list of criteria, but it did have a few non-negotiable points. For one she had to be good looking; I know how shallow that sounds, and I totally blame it on my ongoing battle with self-esteem, but I misguidedly felt that a good-looking girl would somehow make me feel better about myself. And I wanted her to be funny, and think that I was funny; it was important to me that the girl I ended up with be a formidable opponent in the humor department. And she had to be interesting, to compensate for my lack thereof. And above all else, she had to be nice, and everyone had to see that she was nice. The one thing I could not tolerate was rudeness. I tried hard to treat everyone with respect, and expected nothing less from them. I can’t even begin to count how many girls became non-starters before the first date was even over because they were dismissive to the waiter, or made disparaging remarks about someone across the room, or were basically just mean-spirited.
The movie was as good as I had remembered. I strolled home, got nicely settled into my faithful brown leather recliner, and pulled out the professor’s card to take a more careful look. It appeared to be a regular business card, but on the front, it said simply, theprofessorwashere.com. I flipped it over. On the back, it said The password is your full given name.
I knew I was probably setting myself up for a complete waste of time, but if I was about to embark on yet another online dating questionnaire, then I was actually quite looking forward to it. I had found in the past that simply performing the exercise of trying to define my perfect partner had really helped me to think about what I was looking for, so one more hour spent on one more questionnaire couldn’t hurt. With laptop on lap, I opened up my browser, typed in theprofessorwashere.com, and up popped a blank screen, with only a field to enter the password.
I carefully typed
ted brackle and hit the enter key. It told me the password was incorrect. So I tried again, thinking that maybe it needed upper case.
Ted Brackle, password incorrect
TED BRACKLE, password incorrect
I was back to my original assessment that it was just a crazy old man sending me on a wild goose chase, and besides, how could he know my full name? I was about to give up and watch some TV, but then I realized I hadn’t paid quite enough attention to the instructions on the card.
EDWARD BRACKLE, enter. And up popped the main menu!
The professor knew my full name, but not only that, he knew my given name, that I was born Edward, a name I hadn’t gone by since I was six years old.
This was a stunning development. My immediate thought was that my mother was somehow involved. She was the only one who would really know that, and she was always trying to set me up on dates. But she didn’t know about my coffee shop, so that wouldn’t explain how the professor had found me there.
My mother was down in Florida, as were all of my family, so I only ever saw most of them at Thanksgiving or Christmas. I had a great relationship with them all, and really liked when we all got together. I was an only child, but I had plenty of aunts and uncles and cousins, and there were always lots of little kids running around to make it fun. My dad had died when I was a kid and my mother had remarried a jerk. He didn’t appear to be a jerk when she was dating him, in fact, he made sure to treat us both well right up until the day after the wedding, but then it was all downhill from there. In his new role as father he let loose his suppressed control issues and began to micro manage my life, as well as my mother’s. That went on for five years until she could finally take no more, but the damage to me had already been done. It was probably why I had an inherent skepticism about people until I knew them well, and why I wanted to be certain I found the right partner before settling down. A few years later we heard he had died, but no tears were shed in our family.
A quick call to my mother ended any notion that she was the instigator. She denied all knowledge of knowing the professor, and I believed her when she said she had nothing to do with it. That left me completely baffled. How did the professor know so much about me, or where to find me?
On the main menu were buttons for Introduction and Exit. Not ready to give up just yet, I clicked on Introduction. Apparently, the professor had the wildest imagination, and way too much time on his hands...
You are about to embark on a journey that will change your life forever. You may well question the origin, and the meaning, of life. Do not enter into this journey lightly. You have been warned!
I had my doubts that an old man in a coffee shop could set me straight on the meaning of life, but like a moth to the flame, I continued reading.
You are about to create the perfect female companion, your life partner. Her name will be Chloe. She will look exactly as you define her, and her personality and traits will be exactly as you define them. When you meet, she will already have been programmed with what I call her backstory, a full lifetime of memories from the day she was born. From that moment on, she will function exactly as if she were completely human, her personality and traits free to change just as yours are. However, unlike a normal human, you will be able to reprogram Chloe.
Jesus, the professor was completely nuts. He wanted me to design a robot.
You will feel an uncontrollable urge to tell people about her, but you should resist at all costs, or you will always be at their mercy. If Chloe ever finds out that she is not a normal human, she is programmed to leave immediately and you will never see her again. In addition, you should consider that if anyone knew the truth, they would no longer treat her, or you, normally, which would be bad for both of you. When you die, she will leave that same day. Your friends and family will not know what happened to her, so you should have an explanation ready.
I laughed aloud at that one. I wasn’t exactly sure what that explanation could be. Dear friends and family, I apologize for Chloe not being able to make it to the funeral but she is a robot and apparently has prior commitments. That would liven up the eulogy a little. I carried on reading. I couldn’t wait to see what else the professor had dreamed up.
For all intents and purposes, Chloe will be completely human, except for the following differences and limitations:
She will never actually grow old or get sick, as her cells are able to regenerate rapidly.
She cannot change shape, so she will never get fatter or thinner or change weight. When she reaches her later years her hair will turn grey, she will become more stooped, her skin will appear to age, and she will slow down to simulate old age.
Her brain can be reprogrammed throughout her lifetime, but her appearance cannot be altered once she is created.
When you first meet she will be instantly attracted to both your looks and personality, but, just as with a normal couple, the future will be up to both of you to make it work.
She cannot become pregnant.
I stared at that last one for a long time. I had never really thought too much about having a family, but I had also never thought about never being able to have a family. Of course, there was always adoption, but I didn’t know how I felt about that being the only option. What if I found the perfect girl, but she couldn’t get pregnant? Was that enough to break off the relationship? Or would I even care? I didn’t know the answer, but there was no point worrying about it unless it ever really came up.
At the end of the page, I had to check a box to confirm that I fully understood everything I had read. I can’t say that I really understood any of what I had read, but I clicked in the box.
Another page opened.
You now have the chance to decide if you want to continue with the process of designing Chloe, or cancel the contract entirely with no option to enter the website ever again.
There were two buttons
Yes, continue on to design Chloe and No, exit the website permanently.
So far, the professor had not disappointed. I was finding this all quite fun. Of course, I clicked Yes.
A new page opened, and there was even more to read. I hoped there wasn’t much more to go. I really wanted to get started making my Chloe.
You are about to design your life partner. Take your time to get it right. Be careful to make sure she looks exactly the way you would like, as once you are done you will not have another chance to correct her appearance. Then, look at every single personality trait and set each appropriately. There are many options. Study them carefully and try to think of the consequences of each trait. Notice that each trait has a green area and two red areas. The green area sets the trait within normal human capabilities, the right and left red areas are outside of normal human capabilities. Use extreme caution before considering using the red areas. The time to completion is approximately 100 hours. Click here to continue.
100 hours! What? Now I really was considering giving up. 100 hours seemed insane; I had been thinking it would be more like one or two at the most. Surely I had better things to do than this. Of course, I clicked to continue.
On the next screen a big black window opened up and a blue horizontal bar started moving from 0% to 100% across it. It was loading some sort of software. After a wait of about twenty seconds, I was staring at an incredible sight. There in the window was a perfectly rendered 3D image of a naked girl. She looked to be around 30, with mid length straight dark hair, a nice body and a very pleasant face. A message below the girl read
Greetings Ted. This is Chloe. You can change everything about her, except her height, to make her look exactly as you would like. For best results, adjust her body shape first, and then adjust her features and coloring.
The software was extremely intuitive. If I hovered over any spot on Chloe, a small green circle would appear which would let me make adjustments. For example, moving to the side of her waist I could make her thinner or fatter. I could zoom in anywhere to adjust her eyes or nose or breasts, or absolutely anything, and I mean anything, and spin her around to look from any angle. There was also a gallery of body parts, and photos of several real women, so I could pick a person or a body part as a template and then make adjustments to it. It was the most remarkable software I had ever seen. Whenever I altered something too drastically, a red warning message would tell me if I had gone beyond normal human parameters. Apparently the software didn’t consider a five-inch waist and giant clown feet normal. The only thing I couldn’t adjust was her height. She was 5’ 7”, but I thought that was probably a perfect match for my 5’ 11.”
I played around with the software for a while, but eventually stopped and stared into space, contemplating what I really wanted Chloe to look like. Did I want a supermodel who would clearly not be attracted to me in the real world? Even if she was, did I want someone who would be getting constantly hit on by other men? Would it impress my friends if she was too beautiful, or would it intimidate them?
At the bottom of the screen were three buttons.
Save and continue later, Reset to original settings, and Continue to Chloe’s Profile.
I clicked the save button. Time for bed. It was very late.
I always enjoyed the thirty-minute walk to the coffee shop, from where I lived over on the Upper East Side, and even though I wasn’t currently working, I still made the trek quite often.
I had quit my old job a few days ago, and, with the blessing of my new boss, was taking a month off of accumulated vacation time. As much as I couldn’t wait to get started at the new company, I was loving this time off with no commitments. My previous job was in the IT department of a large bank, setting up security, my specialty. I might have stuck it out but I couldn’t stand the internal politics; everyone seemed more interested in their own advancement than in the good of the company. So, after far too long in big corporations, I had decided it was time to look for something smaller. I wasn’t having much luck, until one day, completely unexpectedly, the perfect job opportunity fell into my lap. I was helping a lost tourist on the street. We struck up a conversation, started talking about work, and he told me about his friend, David, who owned a fairly new company, with about 150 employees. True to his word he put in a good word for me, and next thing I knew, I had an interview scheduled. I could feel the electricity the moment I arrived. The people I met were mostly young, all enthusiastic, dressed casually, but taking the job seriously. From their questions, I knew that they were passionate about working there and their focus was purely on helping the company succeed. They loved me, I loved them, and I was confident I had landed the job of my dreams.
I had been frequenting this particular diner for three years now, two or three times a week for lunch, always trying to snag my favorite little booth in the corner where I could stare out at all the people coming and going. It was your typical nondescript New York diner with upholstery a little worn, paint a little faded and carpet stains with their own story to tell, but to me it felt like home, with the food always dependable and the staff always welcoming. Sally was my favorite; in her sixties, a sweet lady with a deliciously sarcastic edge. We had exchanged names early on and now were like old friends, always happy to see each other and find the time to swap a few pleasantries. She had just started her shift, ready for the lunchtime crowd.
“Hi Ted, you’re early. Not like you at all!”
I certainly was a creature of habit. We both smiled.
“No, actually I’m not staying. I just wanted to ask you something about yesterday. Do you remember that old man who came and sat down with me?”
“Of course. Waistcoat, pocket watch. He seemed very pleasant.”
“Yes, he was very nice. I was just wondering if he was a regular customer, or if you had ever seen him before, maybe hanging around outside or anything?”
“Oh, no, first time he had ever been in, on my shift at least, and I‘d never noticed him before he sat with you. Hang on Ted… Hey Lucille, you do nights, ever see an old man come in, 70s, waistcoat, bow tie, pocket watch? Check with Manny too... No? No Ted looks like nobody’s seen him in here before. Something wrong?”
“No, no, nothing like that, I was just curious. I had never met him before either. Just a lonely old man I guess. Oh well, I had better let you get back to work. Probably see you tomorrow. Thanks for your help. Bye.”
Not what I was expecting to hear at all. If he hadn’t been in the coffee shop before, how did he know I was single? Or that I had been looking for a girlfriend for a long time? Or my name? He must have followed me there that day, or known my routine and waited for me. Did that mean he had been following me for a while? Researching me? Why would he do that Why would he single me out?
A website search told me that theprofessorwashere.com was owned by anonymous, and it was set to expire ten years from now. Although he had given me a link to a website that was running the most sophisticated simulation software I had ever seen, I couldn’t find a single reference to its existence anywhere. It seemed impossible that the professor could have written this himself, but there was no company name on the software, no links to a help line or contact information, no reviews of it anywhere, nobody talking about it in blogs, nothing to give a clue where it came from. I searched for other modeling and simulation software to see if any of them could simulate emotions and the other incredible features, but nothing came close to matching the capabilities of the professor’s software. I was no closer to finding out who the professor was, and I could think of nowhere else to look.
I finally hit upon what I thought was the only logical possibility; I had to be a guinea pig, chosen to test this new software before it was brought to market. The professor had told me that I would be helping him while he was helping me, so that was probably what he meant. He must have targeted me, maybe others too, based on some criteria or other, and I was unwittingly testing the software for him. Whatever the reason, I would continue creating Chloe because I had to admit I was enjoying it, but I was a little concerned about revealing such personal details to someone I didn’t know.
Even though the professor warned me against discussing Chloe with anyone, he never actually made me promise that I wouldn’t, and quite honestly, I couldn’t see what possible harm could come of it. More likely was that he simply didn’t want me to discuss the software with anyone. But this was too good a story to keep to myself, so I really wanted to tell Ryan. He was my best friend and my go-to person whenever I had big news.
Voice mail! I hated Ryan’s voice mail. It took ten minutes just to leave a message. First, I had to listen to Ryan telling me he’s not here right now and that I should leave a message at the beep and he’ll get back to me as soon as he can. Then I had to listen to his phone carrier telling me the person I was calling was not available right now and to leave a message at the beep, along with some really useful options like pressing 5 to leave a fax and 7 to send a page. So I did what I always do, and hung up.
I would come home later to create my Chloe, but for now I wanted to make the most of my freedom and check out a new art exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. I went to the MoMA whenever I could; there was always something fun to see, and I figured maybe my dream girl would be there too, staring at the same pile of green bricks in a piece called Pile of Green Bricks, and we would strike up a conversation. Alas, no dream girl appeared, but I still had an enjoyable day at the museum, a slice of Ray’s pizza, and helped an old lady reach something off the top shelf at the supermarket, thus fulfilling my self-imposed one selfless act a day requirement.
I always tried to bring home fresh produce so that I could make a healthy meal. Cooking was my hobby; I found it relaxing and I liked to come up with my own recipes. Tonight was sautéed chicken breasts in a ginger lemon sauce, with roasted cauliflower and brown rice. I carefully arranged it all on a plate then sat down at the table. My mother had always been adamant about that, having us eat at the dinner table and actually talk to each other.
The chicken came out well, but my mind was elsewhere and I finished it without really tasting it. I wanted to get back to Chloe. My password still worked and the software took me to exactly where I had left off. Taking a break had cleared my head. I now knew a lot better what Chloe should look like. I didn’t want a supermodel 10, or even a 9. I wanted an 8, a nice looking girl who would look natural on my arm, pretty, but not stunning. I was fully aware that using the men’s standard rating system of 1 to 10 for girls was not politically correct; Laura, Ryan’s wife, had lectured me on it several times, but you couldn’t argue against it being far more accurate than the female system for men of hot or not hot. I wanted Chloe to be slim and fit looking, but about two or three pounds overweight, so she wouldn’t make my women friends hate her. She had to have fairly small, perky breasts. She would have to have dark brown, maybe even black hair. I reset back to the original Chloe and realized she already looked pretty good, but I knew I could do better.
I looked through the feature of the software that showed photos of real women and decided on the one I was most attracted to, using her as my template. I set about making changes to her; eyes a little bigger, nose a little cuter, dark hair instead of light, checking out the body part samples for inspiration, then going back again and again to make little tweaks, checking her out from every angle. She had to look natural and she had to have a beautiful smile. Yes, the software could even simulate emotions; how Chloe would look when she smiled or laughed or cried, or when she was sad or happy or scared or angry. I tried her out in some different clothes, as I wanted her to look good both casual and dressed up, and she didn’t disappoint.
After a while, I had truly created the girl of my dreams. She was perfect with her sweet girl next-door look and her beautiful smile. I would be extremely happy having her on my arm. I slept soundly with dreams of Chloe.