When Sharon got back into the car, Meredith recounted the conversation she and Tim had had with Jane Heber, concluding, “She thinks the main thing is to keep young people from making bad mistakes. Since a notable symptom of bi-polarity is the making of bad decisions, I took that somewhat to heart.”
Enoch replied, “There’s a difference between spontaneous bad decisions and ones made under pressure, or in the face of temptation.”
Sharon knew that he was talking of the decision, made by football players each year, to play one more year. But it also appeared that he was treating greed as if it were a Biblical temptation, a bit like the apple in the Garden of Eden. She asked, “Have you and Tim gotten over greed yet?”
“Hard to. There are billionaires who’re obsessed with becoming multi-billionaires.”
“That’s sick, isn’t it?”
“Sure. But it’s real. And knowing that it’s sick doesn’t necessarily make it go away.”
“But, still, you are sticking with the decision to quit, aren’t you?”
“Yes. But Tim and I have helped ourselves stick with our decisions by poisoning the well of temptation pretty thoroughly.”
Tim nodded in agreement, but Sharon asked Enoch, “Aren’t there other teams that would still want you?”
“They might. But you people will be the only ones who’ll know how to reach me in England.”
Everyone laughed. That was the real reason for the trip. Sharon asked, “When you do come back, will you fix it so that the NFL won’t know where to find you?”
“Yes. They may find you, but you can tell them that I’m running a chain of fast-food restaurants in China.”
By the time that they got back to the boat, Sharon had done some quiet reasoning. What caused young people to pair up in ways that led to trouble? Most of it involved sexual coupling, or the desire for same. Eventually cemented, as Jane said, with children. The divorce rate was running at about fifty per cent, and, probably, half the remaining marriages were unhappy. What were the chances of predicting happiness at the beginning? Probably not great. But, what about Howie and Audrey, or Enoch and Diana? Couldn’t they go on as they were? Probably not if they had children. As she walked back to the boat with Tim, she said, “Let’s consider people who don’t think they can do anything extraordinary, and who aren’t too effective in helping others. Do they have children as a last resort?”
“Our father did think he was going to accomplish great things. At least until the end. But Mother may have thought in that way.”
“A lot of women do. The young ones may just want a baby as a cuddle toy, but the more mature ones probably think it’s their only chance to accomplish something.”
“I doubt that I’d be a good mother. Even then, it probably takes a live-in father as well. The odds of getting someone who’d be good for both me and the child are slim.”
Tim nodded, obviously in agreement. Sharon felt sure that she wasn’t going to expend energy on that blind alley. She then put forth her conclusions as to the dangers of sexuality. Tim replied,
“I’m reasonably safe. It’s obvious that Melissa doesn’t want to divorce her husband and marry me.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well, anyway, marrying her would mean taking on her children. I’m sure I don’t want to do that.”
“I guess you are safe. I certainly wouldn’t marry a man and take on his screaming children.”
“I think we’re giving the term ‘safe sex’ a whole new meaning. It’s safe if it’s with married people with children.”
“I could either have affairs with women or, perhaps better, go without altogether.”
“Meredith has a different perspective, at least for herself. I said I’d do a little work for her.”
“Oh oh. What?”
“I’ll have to get the right tools together.”
It again occurred to Sharon that it was never good when Tim had ideas, particularly ones involving tools and carpentry. Not only that, ideas provided by Meredith in her present state were unlikely to be sound.
The next morning, it was off to the Home Depot yet again, also known as Home Boys’ Depot. They had the loan of Enoch’s old van, which afforded him a degree of anonymity among the fancy cars of other athletes.
Sharon drove past a cluster of men hoping to find work. When they were small stocky Central Americans, she didn’t feel so badly. They had already gotten to the US and succeeded to the point of being able to send money home. But the present group seemed to consist of bedraggled former middle class workmen holding, in symbolic fashion, hammers or saws. Instead of moving up the social scale, they were going down.
Parking in an obscure corner of the large lot, Sharon wasn’t thrilled with the repeated trips to a chain store whose former CEO had made off with two hundred mil plus. However, it seemed that she and Tim were like a long-married old couple, each tolerant of the other’s foibles. Anyway, Tim, on his crutches, needed her to carry things.
This time, it was ten foot redwood two by twos. Added to the lumber cart were many bolts, and, from the plumbing aisle, half-inch PVC piping. Next came cable ties, and, of course, duct tape. Since their tool collection, including a cordless electric drill, was already in the van, they set up shop on the most distant shopping cart corral.
Sharon had always been good with a hand saw, and she quickly cut the redwood into fairly short sections measured off by Tim. She knew better than to inquire into the object of the enterprise.
Next came the drilling for the quarter inch bolts. They all had to be exactly at right angles to the wood, and Tim watched from the side perspective as Sharon drilled. Tim then experimentally bolted several sticks together, concluding,
“These are too tight.”
The next stop was the Marine Exchange, where it was possible to get a seventeen sixty-fourths inch drill bit. Right outside the store, Sharon drilled out all the holes to allow a certain limited play when the bolts were put through.
Given Tim, the end result would be a manually powered Rube Goldbergish contraption, probably for propelling something through the water. Would it be mounted between two kayaks with a paddle wheel?
The next stop was more puzzling, the Salvation Army Thrift Store. Would Tim buy an old tin table to be cut up into sections? Instead, he clumped over to a clothing aisle, and loaded Sharon down with old coats. Then a side excursion to a nearby drug store yielded some large sharp scissors. That would be to cut up the coats.
As the trip extended into its second hour, they fetched up at JoAnne Fabrics. Tim there bought a quantity of pale pink synthetic material. That was when Sharon caught on. But she didn’t let on to Tim.
As they left the store, perhaps the most unlikely couple to have visited it recently, Tim suggested lunch at Sharon’s favorite, and rather expensive, Thai restaurant. It was either thanks for the morning’s services, or a bribe for yet more services, and she rather suspected the latter. Anyhow, she accepted happily.
Half-way through the cashew-nut-chicken with unpronounceable sauce, she asked what was next on the agenda. Tim replied, “We might go back to the Home Depot parking lot and taper the ends of some of those two-bys.”
“So that, when padded out with strips of coat and covered with fabric, they’ll make plausible ankles and wrists?”
Tim laughed, and said, “I thought you’d catch on about now.”
“Okay. Are we making artificial sex partners for Meredith?”
“Quite understandably, she wants to replace Jimmy with a robotic partner who won’t give her nasty surprises.”
“We’re not robot makers.”
“No, but this is an idea with a long history. Well over a hundred years ago, the crews of whaling ships in the Antarctic would have rubber female mannequins that they filled with sea water heated on the galley stove.”
“In that climate, what amounted to a giant hot-water bottle must have been as appealing as its role as a sex toy.”
“Yes. Now, fast-forward to the latest Japanese robots which are indistinguishable from real people in appearance, and which have a good deal of mobility.”
“Do they have conversation?”
“As in the MIT psychiatrist simulation, you can go a long way with sympathetic grunts, responses like, ‘That’s interesting’, ‘Tell me more’, and the like. Then, if the robot leads off with ‘Not to change the subject….’, it can do exactly that as it lets go a pre-recorded monologue.”
“Okay. That might get it through to the sex part, which, I take it, can be programmed.”
“But, Tim, this is way beyond our capabilities.”
“And, also, very expensive. Meredith wants something cheap and
ready-to-run. She said it should also have touches of humor.”
“There’ll be touches of humor whether we intend them or not.”
“She also wants both a male and female model.”
“She thinks heterosexuality is too confining.”
“I guess I’m with her there.”
“Anyhow, I agreed to the project, thinking that there’s no harm in it. Besides, it won’t be all that hard to do.”
“Okay. How do we do the faces?”
“I have another idea for that.”
“I’m not sure I want to know just yet.”
That didn’t stop Tim.
“Meredith is quite open about the details.”
“As you pointed out, heads and faces are difficult. On the other hand, there are available for children very nice stuffed animals in quite large sizes. Anything from a bear or tiger to a chimpanzee or turtle.”
“Jesus, Tim. You want to cut the head off a stuffed bear, mount it on our artificial person, and then put it in bed with Meredith.”
Sharon, seeing the looks of the people at the next table, realized that she had spoken too loudly. Tim replied, “Meredith’s idea, of course.”
“I bet you had some input. She knew who to come to.”
“She thinks of me, correctly, as a gadgeteer. I first thought of inflatables, but it seemed better to have a heavier firmer structure.”
Sharon then began laughing. Eventually, she said,
“If you tell Melissa about this, and it gets into the papers, I can hardly imagine the popular reaction.”
“I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t put this in her column.”
“But she might tell her friend, Janet. The rumor would then get going.”
“I wasn’t going to tell Melissa at all.”
“Good choice! Anyway, those stuffed animals really are cuddly. I wouldn’t mind having my head next to one.”
“Most people like most animals, and there are people who kiss their dogs on the mouth.”
“I look away when they do that.”
“So do I. Most of us don’t want to get too intimate with animals, not because we don’t like the feel of their fur, but because of the way they behave, their assorted smells, and so on.”
“And your productions won’t have those drawbacks. Okay. Are you going to offer these to anyone beyond Meredith?”
“I don’t exactly want to go public with this. We might just let a few kindred spirits in on it.”
“Have you told Enoch?”
“I’d like to be there when you do.”