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Chapter 6
Approximately two hours after Gene left my office with thecompleted Wife Project questionnaires, there was a knock onthe door. I was weighing student essays, an activity that is notforbidden, but I suspect only because nobody is aware that Iam doing it. It was part of a project to reduce the effort ofassessment, by looking for easily measured parameters such asthe inclusion of a table of contents, or a typed versushandwritten cover sheet, factors which might provide as goodan indication of quality as the tedious process of reading theentire assignment.
I slipped the scales under my desk as the door opened andlooked up to see a woman I did not recognise standing in thedoorway. I estimated her age as thirty and her body massindex at twenty.
‘Professor Tillman?’
As my name is on the door, this was not a particularly astutequestion.
‘Correct.’
‘Professor Barrow suggested I see you.’
46/290I was amazed at Gene’s efficiency, and looked at the womanmore carefully as she approached my desk. There were noobvious signs of unsuitability. I did not detect any make-up.
Her body shape and skin tone were consistent with health andfitness. She wore glasses with heavy frames that revived badmemories of Apricot Ice-cream Woman, a long black t-shirt thatwas torn in several places, and a black belt with metal chains.
It was lucky that the jewellery question had been deletedbecause she was wearing big metal earrings and an interestingpendant round her neck.
Although I am usually oblivious to dress, hers seemedincompatible with my expectation of a highly qualified academicor professional and with the summer weather. I could onlyguess that she was self-employed or on holiday and, freed fromworkplace rules, had chosen her clothes randomly. I couldrelate to this.
There had been quite a long gap since either of us hadspoken and I realised it must be my turn. I looked up fromthe 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’repaying?’
‘Excellent. I’ll make a reservation for 8.00 p.m.’
‘You’re kidding.’
It was an odd response. Why would I make a confusing jokewith someone I barely knew?
‘No. Is 8.00 p.m. tonight acceptable?’
‘Let me get this straight. You’re offering to buy me dinner atLe Gavroche tonight?’
Coming on top of the question about my name, I wasbeginning to think that this woman was what Gene would call‘not the sharpest tool in the shed’. I considered backing out, orat least employing some delaying tactic until I could check herquestionnaire, but could not47/290think of any socially acceptable way to do this, so I justconfirmed that she had interpreted my offer correctly. Sheturned and left and I realised that I did not even know hername.
I called Gene immediately. There seemed to be some confusionon his part at first, followed by mirth. Perhaps he had notexpected 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 tableavailable at the agreed time. I tried to locate Rosie’s profile onmy computer, and for once the photos were useful. Thewoman who had come to my office did not look like anycandidate whose name began with ‘R’. She must have beenone of the paper responses. Gene had left and his phone wasoff.
I was forced to take action that was not strictly illegal, butdoubtless immoral. I justified it on the basis that it would bemore immoral to fail to meet my commitment to Rosie. LeGavroche’s online reservation system had a facility for VIPs andI made a reservation under the name of the Dean afterlogging on using relatively unsophisticated hacking software.
I arrived at 7.59 p.m. The restaurant was located in a majorhotel. I chained my bike in the foyer, as it was raining heavilyoutside. Fortunately it was not cold and my Gore-Tex jackethad done an excellent job of protecting me. My t-shirt was noteven damp underneath.
A man in uniform approached me. He pointed towards thebike, but I spoke before he had a chance to complain.
‘My name is Professor Lawrence and I interacted with yourreservation system at 5.11 p.m.’
It appeared that the official did not know the Dean, orassumed that I was another Professor Lawrence, because hejust checked a clipboard48/290and nodded. I was impressed with the efficiency, though it wasnow 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 tokeep my jacket on throughout the meal. The restaurant wouldpresumably be air-conditioned to a temperature compatible withthe requirement.
I continued towards the restaurant entrance, but the officialblocked my path. ‘I’m sorry. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. You needto 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. Indefence of what followed, I submit the Oxford EnglishDictionary (Compact, 2nd Edition) definition of ‘jacket’: 1(a) Anouter garment for the upper part of the body.
I also note that the word ‘jacket’ appears on the careinstructions 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 didnot add that the need to maintain such an inventory wassurely evidence of their failure to communicate the rule clearly,and that it would be more efficient to improve their wording orabandon the rule altogeth-er. Nor did I mention that the costof jacket purchase and cleaning must add to the price of theirmeals. Did their customers know that they were subsidising ajacket warehouse?
49/290‘I wouldn’t know about that, sir,’ he said. ‘Let me organise ajacket.’
Needless to say I was uncomfortable at the idea of beingre-dressed in an item of public clothing of dubious cleanliness.
For a few moments, I was overwhelmed by the sheerunreasonableness of the situation. I was already under stress,preparing for the second encounter with a woman who mightbecome my life partner. And now the institution that I waspaying to supply us with a meal – the service provider whoshould surely be doing everything possible to make mecomfortable – was putting arbitrary obstacles in my way. MyGore-Tex jacket, the high-technology garment that hadprotected me in rain and snowstorms, was being irrationally,unfairly and obstructively contrasted with the official’s essentiallydecorative woollen equivalent. I had paid $1,015 for it, including$120 extra for the customised reflective yellow. I outlined myargument.
‘My jacket is superior to yours by all reasonable criteria:
imper-meability to water, visibility in low light, storage capacity.’
I unzipped the jacket to display the internal pockets andcontinued, ‘Speed of dry-ing, resistance to food stains, hood …’
The official was still showing no interpretable reaction, althoughI had almost certainly raised my voice.
‘Vastly superior tensile strength …’
To illustrate this last point, I took the lapel of the employee’sjacket in my hands. I obviously had no intention of tearing itbut I was suddenly grabbed from behind by an unknownperson who attempted to throw me to the ground. Iautomatically responded with a safe, low-impact throw to disablehim without dislodging my glasses. The term‘low impact’ applies to a martial-arts practitioner who knowshow to fall. This person did not, and landed heavily.
I turned to see him – he was large and angry. In order toprevent further violence, I was forced to sit on him.
‘Get the fuck off me. I’ll fucking kill you,’ he said.
50/290On that basis, it seemed illogical to grant his request. At thatpoint another man arrived and tried to drag me off. Concernedthat Thug Number One would carry out his threat, I had nochoice but to disable Thug Number Two as well. No one wasseriously hurt, but it was a very awkward social situation, and Icould 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 soundedbelligerent and I thought this might not be the best approach.
Surely we should seek to apologise and leave. I was assumingwe would not now be eating in the restaurant.
A small crowd had gathered and it occurred to me thatanother thug might arrive, so I needed to work out a way offreeing up a hand without releasing the original two thugs. Inthe process one poked the other in the eye, and their angerlevels increased noticeably. Jacket Man added, ‘He assaultedJason.’
Rosie replied, ‘Right. Poor Jason. Always the victim.’ I couldnow see her. She was wearing a black dress withoutdecoration, thick-soled black boots and vast amounts of silverjewellery on her arms. Her red hair was spiky like some newspecies of cactus. I have heard the word‘stunning’ used to describe women, but this was the first time Ihad actually been stunned by one. It was not just the costumeor the jewellery or any individual characteristic of Rosie herself:
it was their combined effect. I was not sure if her appearancewould be regarded as conventionally beautiful or evenacceptable to the restaurant that had rejected my jacket.
‘Stunning’ was the perfect word for it. But what she did waseven more stunning. She took her phone from her51/290bag and pointed it at us. It flashed twice. Jacket Man movedto take it from her.
‘Don’t you fucking think about it,’ Rosie said. ‘I’m going tohave so much fun with these photos that these guys will neverstand on a door again. Professor teaches bouncers a lesson.’
As Rosie was speaking, a man in a chef’s hat arrived. Hespoke briefly to Jacket Man and Rosie and, on the basis thatwe would be permitted to leave without further harassment,Rosie asked me to release my assailants. We all got to ourfeet, and, in keeping with tradition, I bowed, then extended myhand to the two men, who I had concluded must be securitypersonnel. 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 thenone of them laughed and shook my hand, and the otherfollowed his example.
It was a good resolution, but I no longer felt like eating at therestaurant.
I collected my bike and we walked into the street. I expectedRosie to be angry about the incident, but she was smiling. Iasked 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 beganto 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 ofQueensbury. I deal with jerks for a living.’
I pointed out that if she had arrived on schedule she couldhave used her social skills and the violence would have beenunnecessary.
‘Glad I was late then. That was judo, right?’
52/290‘Aikido.’ As we crossed the road, I switched my bike to myother 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, publicholidays 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-defence since Iwas at school. It’s primarily for fitness.’ I had relaxed a little,and Rosie had provided an opportunity to slip in a questionfrom the Wife Project questionnaire. ‘Do you exercise regularly?’
‘Depends what you call regularly.’ She laughed. ‘I’m theunfittest person on the planet.’
‘Exercise is extremely important for maintaining health.’
‘So my dad tells me. He’s a personal trainer. Constantly on mycase.
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 whatto do.’
She changed the subject. ‘Listen, I’m starving. Let’s get apizza.’
I was not prepared to consider a restaurant after the precedingtrauma. I told her that I intended to revert to my original planfor 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 unscheduledevents already in my day.
‘Come on. I won’t criticise your cooking. I can’t cook to savemy life.’
53/290I was not concerned about my cooking being criticised. But thelack of cooking skills on her part was the third fault so far interms of the Wife Project questionnaire, after the late arrivaland the lack of fitness.
There was almost certainly a fourth: it was unlikely that herprofession as waitress and barmaid was consistent with thespecified intellectual level. There was no point in continuing.
Before I could protest, Rosie had flagged down a minivan taxiwith sufficient capacity for my bike.
‘Where do you live?’ she asked.
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