Be Careful What You Wish For
Have you ever wished that you were irresistible to women?
Be careful what you wish for. I am living proof of that.
I am a research biologist.
Or should I say, I was a research biologist. Now I am a hermit, living alone in this isolated cabin. Every week an airplane flies over and drops my supplies off. I have luxuries that no other hermits have had, for my company does all it can to make sure my existence is as pleasant as possible. After all, I do own a major position in the company and its phenomenal successes are built on the patents I developed.
Molecular biology is a field that a few dozen years ago was not very popular, but I was always interested in growing things. Not growing things, as a gardener or a farmer is, but rather in the methods that nature uses to make new plants and animals. After Watson and Crick, biology had the tools to find out answers to these questions. We biologists developed ways to pry into the secrets of life itself. And we do.
I made a name for myself while still in grad school, developing a process so esoteric that it would take me several papers to describe it to someone who knows bio science. My thesis advisor told me that I should patent it, which I did. He also suggested that we start up a company to develop applications of this new technique.
Well, I never finished my dissertation, but that is not important. I became wealthy before my thirtieth birthday. Today the company sponsor PBS specials, endows chairs at major universities, sponsors promising students in their studies. Last year we gave away more money than the university I attended had put into their entire life sciences department the year I dropped out.
You might imagine that new wealth had made a major difference in my life. It did, but only in that it allowed me to do things that interested me. I have always thought that what was going on in my mind was more important than what was surrounding my body. The trappings of wealth have no lures for me. Indeed, if it hadn't been for my friend Barry, who had been my faculty advisor, I would have still been living in the back of the drafty old converted house I'd lived in through college.
I had gotten a cold, one of those stay in bed for days, flat on your back kinds of colds, that allows you to do nothing but sneeze, sniffle and suffer. I had called Barry to make sure that someone would take care of the experiments that I had in progress. Barry brought me the results and been appalled at the way I was living. He had also called an ambulance and had me admitted to the hospital. The cold was really pneumonia.
While I was recovering, he visited me. He scolded me, telling me that I needed someone to take care of me. The squalor of my apartment had deeply offended him. Well, after seven years, during which I had never washed a wall or a window, I could see his point. Of course, I had never really noticed it while I was living there.
He bought me a three-bedroom condominium in a nice building, not too far from our companies new laboratories. He hired a live in cook/house keeper named Maria to take care of me. She made sure that I ate, had clean clothes, fresh linen and an immaculate environment to come home to. At first it took a little getting used to. In my old apartment, I could leave things wherever they were. I had some rather slovenly habits that were the exact opposite of my laboratory habits. Of course, I had to share labs through school and knew that if things weren't put away, the next person couldn't find them. After all, I was someone elses next person. I had lab tidiness, but it didn't carry over to my apartment.
The solution to being able to find something inside the apartment was my assistant, who would come in three times a week and shelve books, file reports, do data entry and keep the home environment functioning. Maria couldn't do it, because while she was a whiz with taking care of my bodily needs, she couldn't have figured out where a report on peptide molecular properties went into the files. That was Shelli's job.
Shelli would file the reports, bookmark and reshelve the books according to a plan that we had worked out. If it wasn't where I thought I had left it, then it had been three weeks since I had used the book and I knew that it had been put back in its place on the big book cases that occupied most of the wall space in the condo. Every six months or so, another wall would be covered with new bookshelves. Shelli took care of that too.
My life was defined by my work and the home that these two women made for me. I was the typical absent minded professor, although still a young man. Maria would check me on my way out the door every morning. Mismatched socks were okay. It just meant that I had put on one dirty one and one clean one. I was doing work in those days that occupied my mind so completely that I was only vaguely aware of the world. She would poke her head into my study, call my name, and when I finally looked up, she would tell me that dinner was ready. I would say that I would be right there, as soon as I finished this, thank her and go back to my work. I noticed that meals were cold more often than not.
What did they look like, these women who took care of me? Maria was about my eye level and had dark hair and beautiful skin tones. She was nicely rounded, in a motherly way. Even if I didn't eat her cooking while it was hot, it was still good. I noticed that my clothes were tighter around the waist. Then she started to buy me bigger pants.
Shelli was long and angular, a gawky giraffe. She was a brilliant young grad student that had taken a sabbatical from her PHD program to make enough money to continue her education. Barry had hired her and she never went back to school. Working for me, she had shared in my work and her name had appeared as co author on several papers. She was much more than just my personal assistant, she was a valued colleague. She wore gold rimmed eye glasses, round circles that stood out from her dark face. She would light up with the most wonderful smile when she was happy, purse her lips in an unconscious pout when she was concentrating. I think that our conversations would be gibberish to anyone else, even someone in our field. We had developed shorthand that was our own special vocabulary.
Whenever there was a conference, the three of us would be driven out to the airport, get on the company jet and it would take us wherever we were going. Sometimes when the research was going well, I would almost have to be dragged aboard the aircraft. More than once, I had to ask where we were. Sometimes the first clue I would have would be that all of the people were talking in a foreign language. After a particular humiliating experience, Marie would always put the address of the hotel in my coat pocket, along with enough local money to get me back to it. I was hopeless at dealing with the real world.
The only reason that I attended these conferences was to talk to other biologists in the field. That is where the real sparks would be struck. Ideas bouncing off other people would ignite ideas of mine. Barry was furious once when I described (in detail) a procedure that we were patenting. It was in answer to a 'yeah, and how in the hell would I purify it?' question in the hotel bar. I didn't care, but Barry scolded me about proprietary information and stock holders and I promised never to do it again. It led directly to a Nobel Prize, though for the woman in the bar.
A bird in a gilded cage, I was the goose that laid the golden eggs. It was a very strange existence, but it satisfied me. I know now what a stunted human being I was, but I do not regret the life that I lived. After all, it is beings such as I was that make humans progress.
Oh? I can prove that. Only people who are obsessed with things to the exclusion of all others make progress happen. Political people are obsessed with power, inventors are obsessed with their fields of interest. Christ had his obsessions.
QED The thing speaks for itself.
Well. That was my life. I was only vaguely aware of my outside world. Maria's mother died and she was away for a few days. Shelli's brother got married. I can't even tell you what year those events took place. My own family had died while I was still in prep school and my uncle, who had taken over my upbringing, died when I was in college. I was very cut off from the normal human ties of the world.
To give you an example, I had never been on a date, never had a sexual relationship with anyone other than myself. A few quick tugs, a few vague dreams. I was very asexual.
During the last part of that life, I began to do research in phonemes. Smells, for those of you that don't recognize the word. I was curious about how ants made their trails to their food supplies. It was pure research, but I had always done 'pure research.' Barry had been the one to spot the enormous commercial potential in my work when I was working on my dissertation. That lead to a process that every biological lab in the world uses extensively. I won't tell you what it was, because you could just look up the patent and find out who I am. I do not want that.
Phonemes are the way that animals and insects attract each other. I keep up with my reading in a dilettantish sort of way and I see that there are companies that are trying to perfect what I was doing six years ago. I hope that they don't make the mistake that I made. There are people who have followed up on things that I had spotted back then, but they all seem to be safely branched off from the trail that I took in my research.
.... There is more of this story ...