Dear Karen, I was wondering if you’d like to go see a movie with me. –Alvin Zaronsky
Karen, hi, I’ve been watching you for some time now
Karen, there’s a movie I’m interested in seeing and I was wondering if you’d like to tag along. Yours truly, Alvin
Dearest Karen, I would be honored to have your presence accompany me
Hey Karen! What’s up! You wanna go see a movie with me??? No pressure. Just let me know. –Alvin.
“Hey, Alvin—oh my God!” Rika stopped abruptly when she entered Alvin’s room. There were plants everywhere. There was even a little tree in the corner. Along with that the walls were newly covered with travel posters and pictures, all with some sort of tropical island theme, mostly hula dancers in Hawaii. “Wow, you’ve been busy.”
Alvin looked around. “Yeah, mm hm.”
“Nice plants. It looks like a what-do-you-call-it in here.”
“Yeah, one of those.” She approached the little tree and gave it a close inspection. “This one’s fake.”
“They’re all fake,” Alvin said.
“Why do you have a lot of fake plants? Why don’t you get real plants?”
“I don’t like real plants inside where I live. I bought a real plant once. It got bugs on it. Little white bugs. It was horrifying. I had to throw it out. Doing that was also unpleasant.”
“I don’t know. It was just sad. It was like I was in charge of taking care of this living thing and I screwed it up.”
“Well, see, what you do is get yourself some insecticide and spray it on the plants and that way you don’t have bugs. Or sad.”
“I don’t like having to kill things—unless they really have it coming. Like mosquitos. Maybe some other things. But most things don’t. And I’m allergic to chemicals.”
“Mm hm. And artificial scents. And perfume and cologne and scented fabric softener. And flowers. And UPS trucks—”
“Diesel fumes. And actually anything that smells. Except food.”
“Well, that must be unpleasant.”
“It is. It’s also the reason I never go to the mall. Those people who own Bath and Body Works should be closed down by the Health Department. I don’t know why people insist on scenting themselves when they smell just fine to begin with, which is not at all.”
“Sorry.” Rika made her way around the room, noting all the Hawaii posters and pictures. “These are really nice,” she said, at the same time noting they all had women in them.
“Thank you,” Alvin said, then came closer to her and gave her a little tour by pointing from wall to wall. “That picture of the five hula girls was taken in 1959. The record album below it of Hawaii’s Greatest Hits with Prince Kalua and the Tropical Islanders is 1963, though I think the band name is kind of fraudulent since the word Kahlua has an “H” in it, so I think that’s some sort of goofball Anglo spelling, which leads me to wonder if Prince Kalua was an actual person. This Fly Teal poster is for Teal Airlines, 1960. Then the Pan American calendar with the girl on the rock and the big Boeing 314 flying boat is 1937 to 1940; the American government confiscated them when World War II started, which was kind of a crappy thing to do since it shut down a private company. And this Cuba poster is from 1950.”
“Why do they all have women in them?”
“Oh, I don’t know. They look nice.”
“So, mostly Hawaii. Have you ever been there?”
“You should take a trip and go there, like for a vacation.”
“I can see it on TV.”
“Hardly the same thing.”
“It’s close, seeing-wise. Not feeling-wise, but seeing-wise. It’s a lot cheaper on TV too since it’s free. Living there would be nice, but just going there for a week would be pointless. There’d be no homeostasis. I think if you visit somewhere nice, then when you come back to where you started, where you actually live, you’re left with the understanding that where you actually live is not all that nice.
“You’re unusual. Has anyone ever told you that?”
Alvin raised his eyes to the ceiling to have a blank and un-distracting screen. “Give me a moment to review.” This took twenty seconds. Then he lowered his eyes to the floor, for the same reason, though for just half the time. Then he looked back to Rika. “No.”
“Okay, well, I really like what you did with your room, even if it’s now full of plastic plants,”
“—but the reason I came in was to see if I could use your printer to print something out. My ink jet is dried out.”
“Did you ever consider getting a laser jet? The ink doesn’t dry out.”
“Is that what you have?”
“Aren’t the cartridges, like, a hundred dollars apiece?”
“That’s the reason I don’t have one.”
“You also don’t have a printer that works.”
“But I have you!” she suggested as a reasonable alternative. “I’ll pay you.”
“Like what? A quarter?”
“Well, okay. I don’t want you to feel beholden.” He held out his palm.
“I don’t have one on me. Actually, I don’t think I’ve even seen one in a couple years. Could you bill me?”
“Sure. What do you need to print?”
“Moby Dick. But I can skip the forward.”
She paused for a response but got only a squinty-eyed look back from Alvin.
“A demographic pie chart of New York City in 1880. It needs to be in color.”
“We have color,” Alvin said.
“Great! I’ll send it to you now. Give me your email address.”
“Gee, I don’t know. That’s pretty personal. I’m concerned about security issues.”
“Just write it down and then I’ll burn it afterward and flush the ashes down the toilet.”
“Okay, that’ll work.”
Rika looked past Alvin to the red 1970’s ATT pushbutton telephone on his desk. “Is that real?” she asked.
She approached it. “Cool.”
“You don’t have a cell phone?”
“I don’t see the need.”
“You’re probably better off.” She glanced at the paper in the middle of the desk. “Dear Karen—ooooh!” She looked back at him. “Lovenote?”
“Private,” Alvin informed.
“No, it’s okay, I’m nosey.” She looked back to the desk. “Dear Karen, I was wondering if you’d like to go see a movie with me—Alvin Zaronsky.” Rika nodded approval. “Nice touch including your last name so she’s not confused as to which Alvin sent this. You’ve met this person before, right?”
“And she’s who?”
“The little red-haired girl that sits across the aisle from my cube at work.”
“Aw, sweet, just like Charlie Brown. Why are you writing her a note?”
“Because I want to ask her if she wants to see a movie.”
“No, I mean why a note instead of just asking her, you know with, like, your voice?”
“What’s wrong with a note?”
“Nothing, if you’re from the nineteenth century. Also, ‘dear’ is not really a thing anymore.”
“I’m less comfortable with talking. I’m better with writing. And if she says no, I want to give her sufficient time to make up a believable lie as to why she’s saying no. That way my ego’s protected. A note allows for that. Springing it on her—your suggestion—doesn’t. What’s wrong with dear? That’s a standard letter opening.”
“Just talk to her, Alvin. She’ll appreciate that more than a note. Notes are creepy. And dear is archaic.”
“I don’t agree.”
“Okay, just for the sake of argument and focusing on the note, why not this for an opening then: Karen, you are endearing.”
“Even I know that’s weird and stupid.”
“It’s the same thing as dear Karen.”
“Dear is figurative, not literal.”
“Explain how it’s even figurative.”
“It’s just, you know—”
“A formal way of saying hi.”
“Hello is a formal way of saying hi. To whom it may concern is a formal way of saying hi. Maybe you should open with that: To whom it may concern, I think you’re a real hottie. Would you be my Valentine, and how about a movie?”
The phone in her back pocket rang. “Just ask her, like a person,“ Rika said, finishing with Alvin, then pulled the phone out. “Oh, it’s Rory my boyfriend.” She put the phone to her ear. “Hi, hon. You’re here now?” she asked. “Yeah, give me a few minutes. Alvin our new roommate is helping me print something.”
Alvin turned to his desk.
“I don’t know, like, five minutes,” Rika said.
Alvin took an errant pencil out of the pen basket and put it in the pencil and eraser basket where it belonged.
“I know the movie’s at 7:15. I—“ she started but got cut off. She listened then returned. “I just need five minutes to do this thing and then I’ll be down. We have plenty of time to make the movie. Just be patient. Okay?”
Alvin sensed her tone getting frosty.
“No, I’m not being patronizing, I just need you to chill out a little.” She listened some more, then exploded. “Don’t talk to me like that!” she shouted abruptly. “Don’t use that word. I do not like that! Have you been drinking? This is how you talk to me when you start drinking in the afternoon.”
Alvin checked his email address on the computer since he couldn’t remember if it was dot net or dot com. He also could have just left the room, but chose not to.
“Fine! I’m coming down now! Fine!” She put the phone back in her pocket. “Sorry,” she said to Alvin. “He gets cranky and impatient sometimes.”
“When he’s been drinking apparently.”
“Yeah, well, kind of self-medicating.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“You know, just trying to get away from a lot of his problems. Bad upbringing, hyper-critical parents. He’s got a lot to deal with.”
“It sounds like you have a lot to deal with.”
“Yeah, well, we all have our stuff. He loves me, though. He’s a good person, he just has his moments.”
“What did he say that made you so mad?” Alvin asked, though not ignorant of the few possible word candidates that might have set her off.
“Ohhh,” she began, then retreated, “Let’s not go there. Nothing. Just nothing. Anyway, can we do the print thing tomorrow?”
“Sure, just stop in.”
“Thanks! You’re a peach.”
“I’m still billing you.”
Note to the Mother Ship
I took seven different colored dice and put white stickers on them. Then I drew these numbers on them. Starting from the bottom die, each successive die has a 52.77% chance of rolling a higher number than the previous (17 to 19 odds). There are no ties. As you move upward, the win percentage over the lowest die increases by 2.77%, so that eventually the red die at the top, on just one throw, has a 66.67% chance of winning if throwing against the gray die (1 to 2), or an 82.68% chance of winning four out of seven. Also, the rank of each die is indicated by its initial number (1 through 7). These are the numbers:
Red 1 20 32 54 80 96
Blue 2 16 33 44 70 90
Green 3 14 25 48 56 88
White 4 13 27 35 55 77
Purple 5 12 21 36 50 64
Yellow 6 10 22 30 45 63
Gray 7 11 17 23 42 60
I have no idea what the purpose of this is. But I think it’s pretty. So there it is.
“I have due by my diligence and work, however, ample furs so as to trade with our red brothers.”
–Isaiah Prescott, November 8, 1844
Alvin stopped reading America’s Frontier Story—A Documentary History of Our Westward Expansion—and put the book down on the desk of his work cubicle. He took his yellow highlighter and painted over the sentence. Then he underlined in pencil our red brothers.
‘Hm,’ he thought to himself. ‘Interesting phrase. Seems somebody found a way to get along with each other.’ He returned to reading.
Karen rolled her chair out of her cube, edging it into the aisle, as she heard Lucy and Megan in conversation, call flow at the relay center presently being at low tide.
“What are you talking about?” Karen asked.
“The question is, would you sleep with someone you didn’t like,” said Lucy.
Alvin, sitting kitty-corner from Karen, couldn’t help but perk up hearing this question as it entered his presently unoccupied ears. He looked up briefly, then considering it none of his affair went back to the book.
The consensus of the women was a unanimous no.
“Alvin, what about you?” Karen asked.
“What about me?” Alvin asked, now a polite though unwilling participant in the sex survey.
“Would you sleep with someone you didn’t like?”
Alvin had overheard the responses of the three women on this issue as his audio antennae had continued to receive as he read. He stuck a note paper in his page and closed the book. He rolled his chair out into the aisle so as to be one with the women. “Well, I don’t think you can ask a male that question.”
“Why not?” asked Lucy.
“Well, males function differently. It’s not the same game. If a woman I didn’t like, suddenly offered to sleep with me, I wouldn’t have a moral or ethical issue with it. Instead, my first thought would be that perhaps in the past I had judged her too harshly.”
Karen stood at the kitchen sink washing out her dinner plate and cup. Alvin stood patiently next in line with his coffee cup.
“Did you want to get in here?” she asked.
“No, you go ahead. I’m fine.”
He was fine because he was going to ask her if she wanted to go see the movie, having decided to do so via the talking method as Rika suggested. He estimated that the time it took her to clean her plate and cup would be either sufficient for him to work up the courage to put this idea forth or to gird his loins for a rejection.
“How do you like working here?” Alvin asked. They’d both been in the same class so he thought this was a reasonable question to put to an equal newbie. It also might soften up the beach a bit and allow for a smooth deployment and landing of the movie question.
“Oh, I really like it,” Karen said. “I was here last year, then I came back this year because I took the summer off from school and had to leave. But when you come back you have to go through training again.”
“Oh, that’s why we were in the same class.”
“I think deaf people are great, don’t you?”
Alvin considered the question. The only response he could come up with was, “Which ones?”
“Well, all of them. I just think deaf people are great. Don’t you think?”
“Well,” Alvin started, then paused, “I haven’t met all of them, so I’m inclined to think that some of them could be jerks.”
“That’s a mean thing to say,” Karen said.
“Well, no, I mean, if you considered everybody to be equal, like different colored people, or people with disabilities, then I think in order to view them as equal you have to allow for the possibility that they can be, you know, assholes too. Otherwise they’re not equal, they’re just special.”
“You sound like a reactionary.”
“I’ve heard that term before but I still don’t know what it means.” This was going south really fast. Alvin attempted to lighten the load of the sinking ship and change the subject. “Are you from Madison?”
“No, Shawano,” Karen said.
“Oh, where’s that?”
“It’s a little town up north.”
“Oh, what’s it like growing up in a small town?”
“It’s okay, but you know, it’s all white, so there’s that.”
“Do you have something against your own race?”
“No, it’s just that, you know, it’s so boring.”
“If there were other races in your town it would be less boring?”
“Well, you know, other cultures have so much to bring to you.”
“I don’t know. They can teach you different things.”
“I don’t know. Different things. Lots of things.”
Alvin wanted to say ‘Like what’ again but decided twice was already enough.
“So, you don’t think diversity is good,” Karen said. It wasn’t a question as much as an accusation.
“I think it’s overrated actually.”
She didn’t respond but just rinsed her cup and looked at him with the expectation that he expand.
So he did. “Well, I just think people’s idea of diversity is having a group of different colored people, or people with different sexual orientations, but who all think the same thing, or voted for the same presidential candidate. I don’t think that’s the definition of diverse, just the definition of colorful. I think in order to be diverse you have to have people in the group that are actually adversaries. Then if they all get along, then you can say you have a diverse group. You know, like in a band, or something. And you can project that—the fact they all get along—as something positive about your group, whatever it might be. But I don’t think by itself diversity is necessarily good. Not bad, but not good, just neutral. Of course, the fact that they all get along is good, if they do. But I think diversity is something you try to overcome. I don’t think it’s especially profitable to artificially create it. People are tribal. They like being with their own kind. I think it’s just human. Like, I think if you had a factory, and all the employees were fifty-year old Chinese women, you would have a much more harmonized and productive workforce than if you had people who were all superficially different from each other, even if they all voted for the same guy for president.”
“Women can be president too you know.”
“Yeah, I was just making a point about diversity, not about whether or not a woman should be president.”
“Gotcha,” Karen said with a nod while turning her head away.
Alvin sensed that “gotcha” lacked actual approval of his perspective.
Karen shook off the wet from her cup and put it in the dish rack. “All yours,” she said, and left the kitchen.
Alvin washed his coffee mug out. “Well, that may have saved a lot of time down the road.”
He walked back to his cube but stopped when he saw Rose knitting something. The idea of somebody making something with their own hands was personally fascinating. “What are you making?” he asked.
“Ohhh, I’m not sure yet. It might be a scarf or a sweater. Do you knit?”
“Me?” Alvin asked, mildly shocked by the suggestion that he might knit.
“Yeah, do you knit? You should knit, it’s very relaxing.”
“I think knitting is something women gravitate to, not so much men.”
“It’s not sexist if it’s true,” Alvin countered matter-of-factly.
Rose considered it. She gave a head nod allowing for the possibility. “Yeah, that’s true,” she said. “But Steve knits. So, maybe you’re wrong.”
“A singular anecdote doesn’t support a general hypothesis,” Alvin countered. “This in the same way that possibility doesn’t support probability. I often see confusion on that point.”
“Okay, well, I’m not confused, but thank you, Mr. Spock, for the observation,” she said with a friendly snicker.
“What do you mean?” Alvin asked.
“Your pronouncement. You reminded me of Mr. Spock, the guy from Star Trek.”
“Just now with what you just said.”
She put her knitting in her lap. “The thing you just said, about a singular anecdote, and the rest of it. Probability and that.”
Alvin reviewed the last sixty seconds in an attempt to figure out what she was talking about. Say something. Your silence is creepy. “Oh,” he casually offered, feigning recollection. He looked at Rose’s creation. “I like your color selection.”
“Oh, thanks,” she said and smiled.