It was a quiet night. There were only a few people in the bar as Phil sipped his drink in peace. Eddy, the bartender, was his usual jovial self, and Phil wondered what it was like to be married to someone who made his living by being a friendly, cheerful person all day. It must not be too bad; Eddyâ??s wife seemed happy and well adjusted enough.
Phil wasnâ??t married. In fact, he wasnâ??t even dating. He had recently given up looking — too many weirdoes. It seemed like once he showed a genuine interest in a woman, she just freaked out. Either she acted like there must be something wrong with him, or she absolutely smothered him immediately with questions about marriage and commitment. He just couldnâ??t seem to find anybody normal. Oh well, looking was a pain anyway. After all, he was bound to meet the right lady eventually, right?
Then she came in.
Auburn hair, perfect complexion, and a body built for one thing; whether it was sex or breaking hearts was yet to be seen. In any case, she was beautiful and moved like a cat.
Well, take a good look Phil, â??cause thatâ??s all youâ??re likely to get, he thought. He barely had the thought out of his head when she sat down right next to him.
Lord, why do you do this to me? Phil thought. Here sheâ??ll sit. Me paralyzed until 5 minutes before she has to leave, and when I do finally talk to her, sheâ??ll blow me off like a piece of lint off a designer dress.
They sat. Phil ordered another drink and chatted with the bartender about the latest on the internet. Eddy had just discovered the â??net with his kid, and was excited that he was actually learning something close to the forefront of technology.
â??Are you into computers?â?? asked the gorgeous woman.
â??Sort of,â?? replied Phil, praying she would not ask what he did for a living. It is generally true that when making an impression on a woman, menâ??s careers have varying success. At the top are things like fighter pilot and brain surgeon. Ironically, also at the top are jobs like being the roller-blade rental stand attendant at the beach, and garbage collector. Next on the list are the skilled trades and white-collar jobs like sales, marketing, and business management. After those come the less glamorous careers, like accounting. At the bottom, below the frost line, are engineering and the computer jobs. Nothing makes a womanâ??s eyes glaze faster than the answer to the question â??Youâ??re an engineer? So, what do you design?â??
â??So what do you do?â?? inquired the woman.
Phil briefly considered lying, but he figured he didnâ??t know enough about fighter planes or garbage to make it stick. He took a deep breath. Well, a half truth is still half truth, right? â??Iâ??m, uh, in production.â?? he said.
â??Really! Do you do scheduling, or assembly, or what?â??
Phil hadnâ??t thought that far. â??Actually, Iâ??m involved a little earlier in the process.â??
â??Uh, well, uh, design, actually.â?? He could see it happen. The mere mention of the word was having an effect. The dead-fish-eye look was coming — the first tear was already forming. The word â??designâ??, when appended to â??fashionâ??, â??hairâ??, or even â??industrialâ?? was a completely different ball game.
â??Iâ??m sorryâ?? she said, wiping her eye, â??my contact shifted.â?? A popular excuse, Phil thought. She hesitated, â??Do you mean youâ??re an engineer?â?? Phil nodded.
Suddenly, she perked up. â??So, what do you design?â??
So this is the way the night was to be. The answer to this question was the real crux of the matter. If you blow it off, you risk looking like you’re hiding something, or lying. If you answer in depth you risk boring her to death, the attendant charges, as well as alienating the bartender for killing one of his customers. This would not be easy. â??I design industrial process equipment,â?? Phil said, hoping the subject would hit the deck until his other charms could balance its effect. â??Wow!â?? she said, â??thatâ??s really interesting — what kind?â??
A curious woman was the most tragic. Like a monkey that reaches into the coconut to get the prize, unable to remove her hand while holding it, unwilling to let go of it to free herself, she would sit there and ask questions and be polite and be interested until the very life was nearly sucked out of her. She would not realize the danger she was in until it was almost too late. Then, just when she had gotten the knack of nodding at the right times and pretending to understand the language, the will to survive would kick in, and she would think of an excuse to leave. Then she would go home and sleep for three days. She would only be curious once.
So Phil, little by little, told what he was working on, as a way of giving her an opportunity to escape. After all, mothers are too busy lecturing their daughters on safe sex, and how to say â??noâ?? to warn them about this hazard. But she held her ground, and the sad train of events that was now irreversible went on. She nodded. She looked thoughtful. She gave the impression of complete understanding. This one has real stamina Phil thought, wrapping up his spiel. It had lasted only a few minutes, but any engineering discussion has a spatio-converstaional reality of its own.
â??And that is what I design.â??
She looked awestruck. â??That is incredible!â?? she said, pronouncing each syllable of the word separately. â??You must have a ton of stories! Tell me one!â??
Glancing to check her arms for needle tracks, Phil expressed his surprise. â??Not many women find this very interesting.â??
â??Oh, come on. Youâ??re being modest. I canâ??t imagine doing what you do. It must be so exciting! Starting with nothing but a request from a customer and a few ideas — and turning it into something that works. I mean, the challenges! The successes! The failures! If I could do that I would work a hundred hours a week!â??
Now Phil was awestruck. Somewhere in a parallel dimension, Phil thought, Rod Serling must be explaining this to his audience. Eddy stopped washing glasses, and had his head cocked with a look on his face like a guy who was watching someone lock their keys in their car.
She seemed normal. Her eyes were hardly glazed at all, she had no facial twitches, and she didnâ??t even look longingly at the bartender hoping for a rescue. Either she was genuine, or she was fatally bored. Let me explain.
It is often heard, although never confirmed, that occasionally a young woman that has spoken with an engineer early in the evening has actually come back for more once she discovered that only other men in the bar were computer wonks. Fatally bored, she decides to go out with her head held high, facing her nemesis. Sort of like the way death-roe inmates will resign themselves to their fate and finally accept their date with the high voltage hotel.
Either way, Phil didnâ??t have any compunction about torturing those who had given up a chance for escape and started with the stories.
Engineering stories come in two basic varieties. The first is the Great Invention: â??There I was, with only a few weeks left in the schedule, and then it hit me! The biggest development in the industry in the last 10 years!â?? The second is the blunder, which also comes in two varieties: The Unexpected Phenomena, and the Big Mistake. The Unexpected Phenomena involves a project going bad because of some law or effect that no one had anticipated (who ever heard of â??torsional resonance?â??). The Big Mistake happens because someone was careless, stupid, or the victim of bad luck: â??What he forgot was that the thing was wired for 220 volts, not 110, and he plugged the motor in and BANG!â?? The former is usually forgiven because most people involved with the project would have pointed it out if they had thought of it, and nobody can think of everything. The latter is usually not forgiven, because it is the sort of thing that nobody else is interested in, and the sort of thing the designer should have been thinking about while he wasnâ??t thinking about the unexpected phenomena. Since the Big Mistake is painfully obvious once discovered, and since it makes the victim look very stupid, it generally make the best story. Also, since it usually involves something going â??bangâ?? or â??crashâ?? it is often funny.
After an hour or so, Phil was slowing down and running out of stories. Catherine excused herself to powder her nose.
Phil contemplated his unbelievably good fortune. She laughed at every story that was funny. She immediately grasped the significance of every great discovery. By the end, she was predicting what would happen halfway through. This woman had managed to learn more about engineering in two hours in a bar than Philâ??s boss had in four years of school plus 20 years of experience. His mind boggled at what must be wrong with her. She came back from the bathroom.
Now it was his turn. â??What do you do for a living?â?? he asked. She was a surgical nurse at the naval air station in the city. She enjoyed her work, and told a few stories with little prompting. And, she was single.
â??You must know a lot of pilots and surgeons,â?? Phil said.
â??Assholes. Every last one of them. They think they are so impressive. But what do they really do? Pilots drive airplanes. Big deal. Anybody can drive a car, how hard can an airplane be? And surgeons? The way they talk they created life! They do one simple procedure and then sit in the locker room and stretch for three hours like they just pushed a bus up a hill. Frankly I donâ??t see what the fuss is about. I mean itâ??s not like being an engineer, for Peteâ??s sake.â??
Phil blinked, it is getting better and better! She must have a flaw — a hidden, terrible flaw. Slowly, Phil started to check her out.
But it just wouldnâ??t surface. Owned her own house. Parents lived in a different state. No recent bad relationships (â??Iâ??m so tired of getting restraining ordersâ?? was one young womanâ??s whine). No unreasonably strong opinions. Politically and religiously moderate. No drugs. No strange medical problems. Compared with what heâ??d met lately, this was perfection incarnate.
Phil felt the impact of what he had stumbled onto. There was no denying it any longer. A single woman who actually found engineers interesting. Who was a ball to talk to. Who had a life. And whatâ??s more, was in all other respects perfectly normal. She must be the last one on earth. But what to do? If the guys at work find out thereâ??ll be bloodshed over her. No, I must keep her a secret! Phil thought. His mind started racing. Iâ??ve got to move fast. If the others catch wind of her itâ??ll be all over. The last one on earth! Iâ??ll tell my friends after we get married.
â??So, what do you think of marriage?â?? Phil asked.
Catherine looked like sheâ??d just noticed a dent in her new car. â??Uh, I donâ??t know. When I meet the right guy I guess I would be interested,â?? she said, very slowly.
â??Great! Do you want a big wedding or a small wedding? I think Iâ??d like a small wedding, you know, just a few friends. What about kids? I havenâ??t really decided. How long do you think people should go out before they get married? Do you believe in love at first sight…?â?? Phil rambled on enthusiastically.
What on earth is the matter with me? Catherine thought. Why is it that every nice guy I meet either thinks there must be something wrong with me or starts shopping for wedding rings before he knows my last name!
Catherine gulped the last of her drink and got up. â??Uh, I just forgot…Iâ??ve got an early meeting tomorrow. I have to go. It was nice talking with you.â?? The last was added as she bolted to the door. God, she felt tired.
â??Well, I hope to see you again! Whatâ??s your last name?â?? Phil yelled. She had already left.