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Chapter 23
We survived US Immigration. Previous experience had taughtme not to offer observations or suggestions, and I did notneed to use my letter of recommendation from DavidBorenstein at Columbia University characterising me as a saneand competent person. Rosie seemed extremely nervous, evento someone who is poor at judging emotional states, and I wasworried that she would cause suspicion and that we would berefused entry for no justifiable reason, as had happened tome on a previous occasion.
The official asked, ‘What do you do?’ and I said, ‘Geneticsresearcher,’ and he said, ‘Best in the world?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’
We were through.
Rosie almost ran towards Customs and then to the exit. I wasseveral metres behind, carrying both bags. Something wasobviously wrong.
I caught up to her outside the automatic doors, reaching intoher handbag.
‘Cigarette,’ she said. She lit a cigarette and took a long drag.
‘Just don’t say anything, okay? If I ever needed a reason togive up, I’ve got one now. Eighteen and a half hours. Fuck.’
187/290It was fortunate that Rosie had told me not to say anything. Iremained silent but shocked at the impact of addiction on herlife.
She finished her cigarette and we headed to the bar. It wasonly 7.48a.m. in Los Angeles, but we could be on Melbourne time untilour arrival in New York.
‘What was the deal about “best geneticist on the planet”?’
I explained that I had a special O-1 Visa for Aliens ofExtraordinary Ability. I had needed a visa after the occasionwhen I was refused entry and this was deemed the safestchoice. O-1 visas were quite rare and‘yes’ was the correct answer to any question about theextraordinari-ness of my abilities. Rosie found the word ‘alien’
amusing. Correction, hilarious.
Since we did not have bags checked, and the immigrationprocess had proceeded smoothly, I was able to implement mybest-case alternative and we caught an earlier flight to NewYork. I had made plans for the time gained through thismanoeuvre.
At JFK, I steered Rosie towards the AirTrain. ‘We have twosubway options.’
‘I supposed you’ve memorised the timetable,’ said Rosie.
‘Not worth the effort. I just know the lines and stations weneed for our journeys.’ I love New York. The layout is sological, at least uptown from 14th Street.
When Rosie had telephoned Isaac Esler’s wife she was verypositive about some contact from Australia and news from thereunion. On the subway, Rosie said, ‘You’ll need an alias. Incase Esler recognises your name from the Asperger’s survey.’
I had already considered this. ‘Austin,’ I said. ‘From AustinPowers.
International Man of Mystery.’ Rosie thought this was hilarious.
I had made a successful, deliberate joke that was not related toexhibiting some quirk in my personality. A memorable moment.
‘Profession?’ she asked.
188/290‘Hardware-store owner.’ The idea appeared in my brainspontaneously.
‘Okaaaaaay,’ said Rosie. ‘Right.’
We took the E train to Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street andheaded uptown.
‘Where’s the hotel?’ Rosie asked as I steered us towardsMadison Avenue.
‘Lower East Side. But we have to shop first.’
‘Fuck, Don, it’s after 5.30. We’re due at the Eslers’ at 7.30.
We don’t have time for shopping. I need time to change.’
I looked at Rosie. She was wearing jeans and shirt –conventional attire. I could not see the problem, but we hadtime. ‘I hadn’t planned to go to the hotel before dinner, butsince we arrived early –’
‘Don, I’ve been flying for twenty-four hours. We are doingnothing more with your schedule until I’ve checked it forcraziness.’
‘I’ve scheduled four minutes for the transaction,’ I said. Wewere already outside the Hermès store, which my research hadidentified as the world’s best scarf shop. I walked in and Rosiefollowed.
The shop was empty except for us. Perfect.
‘Don, you’re not exactly dressed for this.’
Dressed for shopping! I was dressed for travelling, eating,socialising, museum-visiting – and shopping: runners, cargopants, t-shirt and the jumper knitted by my mother. This wasnot Le Gavroche.
It seemed highly unlikely that they would refuse to participatein a commercial exchange on the basis of my costume. I wasright.
Two women stood behind the counter, one (age approximatelyfifty-five, BMI approximately nineteen) wearing rings on all eightfingers, and the other (age approximately twenty, BMIapproximately twenty-two) wearing huge purple glasses creatingthe impression of a human ant. They were very formallydressed. I initiated the transaction.
‘I require a high-quality scarf.’
189/290Ring Woman smiled. ‘I can help you with that. It’s for thelady?’
‘No. For Claudia.’ I realised that this was not helpful but wasnot sure how to elaborate.
‘And Claudia is’ – she made circles with her hand – ‘whatage?’
‘Forty-one years, three hundred and fifty-six days.’
‘Ah,’ said Ring Woman, ‘so we have a birthday coming up.’
‘Just Claudia.’ My birthday was thirty-two days away, so itsurely did not qualify as ‘coming up’. ‘Claudia wears scarves,even in hot weather, to cover lines on her neck which sheconsiders unattractive. So the scarf does not need to befunctional, only decorative.’
Ring Woman produced a scarf. ‘What do you think of this?’
It was remarkably light – and would offer almost zeroprotection against wind and cold. But it was certainly decorative,as specified.
‘Excellent. How much?’ We were running to schedule.
‘This one is twelve hundred dollars.’
I opened my wallet and extracted my credit card.
‘Whoa whoa whoa,’ said Rosie. ‘I think we’d like to see whatelse you have before we rush into anything.’
I turned to Rosie. ‘Our four minutes is almost up.’
Ring Woman put three more scarves on the counter. Rosielooked at one. I copied her, looking at another. It seemed nice.
They all seemed nice. I had no framework for discrimination.
It continued. Ring Woman kept throwing more scarves on thecounter and Rosie and I looked at them. Ant Woman came tohelp. I finally identified one that I could comment intelligentlyon.
‘This scarf has a fault! It’s not symmetrical. Symmetry is a keycomponent of human beauty.’
Rosie had a brilliant response. ‘Maybe the scarf’s lack ofsymmetry will highlight Claudia’s symmetry.’
190/290Ant Woman produced a pink scarf with fluffy bits. Even Icould see that Claudia would not approve and dropped itimmediately on the reject pile.
‘What’s wrong with it?’ said Rosie.
‘I don’t know. It’s unsuitable.’
‘Come on,’ she said, ‘you can do better than that. Imagine whomight wear it.’
‘Barbara Cartland,’ said Ring Woman.
I was not familiar with this name, but the answer suddenlycame to me. ‘The Dean! At the ball.’
Rosie burst out laughing. ‘Corrrrr-ect.’ She pulled another scarffrom the pile. ‘What about this one?’ It was virtuallytransparent.
‘Julie,’ I said automatically, then explained to Rosie and the twowomen about the Asperger’s counsellor and her re............
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