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.
Sexual attractants seems a strange field for me to have stumbled into. I can't (won't) tell you how I, a virgin, wound up doing all of this research and development. I will give you a broad over view of where I went wrong and let it go at that.
When an animal is in heat, they produce phonemes that attract mates. Humans are the only animals that are in rut throughout the year. It is an odd fact of nature, one that has many curious implications. Perhaps it is one of the major reasons that we became intelligent in the first place. I will leave that train of thought for someone else to follow up.
While a female animal is aroused and producing these sexual attractants, males of the same species will come flocking around. A curious side development to this is that it increases the production of testosterone in the male. Along with the testosterone comes aggressive behavior patterns. There are a lot of socio-biological ramifications of this. Male animals fighting over who gets to mate with the females, butting heads and locking horns for dominance. The word 'horny' comes from these testosterone driven male competition displays. I'm becoming pedagogic again, aren't I?
Well, the pheromones that are produced by the females are short lived. After all, they are complex, long chain molecules that disintegrate in air. Once the fluids that protect them dry, they deactivate. People in hot, humid climates are more sexually active than people who live in desert climates. The molecules are not destroyed as quickly in a tropical forest as in a desert. Cultural patterns reflect this. Curious as to how shaped by smells our societies are. It isn't our brains that are running our lives, it is our noses.
If you don't think that this is so, I will give you one example that will prove my point. Men that have had their sense of smell damaged (mostly through exposure to caustic chemicals in industrial accidents) are impotent. Everything may work fine physically, but they do not produce erections spontaneously.
Now that you have the background, I will tell you the story of why I am a hermit.
It was a dark and cold December day when I had my lab accident. I had been working on my latest batch of samples and had left the little plastic tray on the bench while I was writing up my rough notes. I had reached for a test tube to get the number written on its side, my sleeve caught on the tray, and pulled it onto my lap and upset the whole batch onto me. I sprang up, cursing and brushing the goop off my pants. I think that that was where I was infected. Through my hands.
Well, it was a only a few steps to the shower. I pulled the chain and the water came on. I rinsed the stuff off, stripped off my clothes and threw them into the contaminated bin that is next to the emergency shower. Then I scrubbed myself down very thoroughly with neutralizers. It was a stupid accident and I was more concerned with having to repeat the work that I had been doing than with any harm I might have caused myself.
I was using the brush to clean my nails when Shelli came into the lab. She stopped inside the door and I glanced up at her. Being naked in front of her wasn't embarrassing me as much as the fact that I had ruined the results of all of our work for the last month. I asked her to dump neutralizer on the floor where the tubes were and she sprang into action while I continued my scrub down. Modesty is a low priority when a lab is being contaminated.
She sprinkled and swept the spilled tubes into a pile, covering it. Then she put away the other trays that were still out on the bench. She brought a clean lab coat off the rack for me to wear and a pair of shower shoes. She put them near the shower and went out the door, leaving me to finish my shower.
By the time that I was done and dressed, the biological decontamination team was in the corridor. Having them there is part and parcel of working with biologically active agents. The potential of a catastrophic release means that we have to be prepared for many things. It is a federal law and the sight of the contamination suit clad squad furthered my embarrassment.
I was lead down a hall and into the major decontamination area. Shelli was already there, being scrubbed down and subjected to the sprays and bristle brushes. I told her that I was sorry, just before getting my own dose of treatment.
A very long forty minutes latter, we were passed through into the isolation rooms where we would spend a mandatory seventy two hours. The isolation rooms are set up for fifteen people to live in, everyone having their own room. Each room can be sealed off from the others and have pass throughs for food. There are thick blue isolation gloves hanging from the walls for drawing samples. One set where you can walk up to them, another set over the bed in case you can't walk.
We got dressed in the surgical scrub suits that are kept there for those unfortunate ones that have been exposed. I finished dressing and went out to the lounge. There are phones and terminals in each room and I was busy for a while making out reports on the incident as the protocols demand. Shelli came out of her room and ordered lunch for us both while I was busy making the reports.
I apologized to her again for the mishap. She brushed off my apologies, recognizing the incident for what (we thought) it was. An unfortunate occurrence that we would have to put up with for a while.
We spent the next five days as lab rats. Drawing each others blood, taking throat swabs and passing them through the airlocks to others who would perform tests on them. Shelli came down with a cold while we were in there and I brought her soup and fluids, kept track of when she should take her meds. I read until my eyes were bleary from looking at the screens. It was very boring.
For a while, we thought that we might be stuck in there for a lot longer. The concern was that Shelli's cold symptoms could be something else. Instead of seventy two hours, we were extended until everyone knew for sure what she had. The medical people finally diagnosed it as Hong Kong G flu and we relaxed. I was sorry that she was feeling so rotten and wound up spending time talking to her to help cheer her up. During this time, I found out more about her private life than I had known during the years we had spent together.
She'd grown up in Detroit, an inner city child whose teachers had recognized her intelligence and encouraged her. She was allowed to skip several grades and was sent to the best public high school in the city. She'd graduated close enough to the top of her class to be given a scholarship to the University of Michigan, had excelled there and been granted another scholarship to MIT. She had had a problem with her dissertation, giving up her first project and then taking on another. She'd taken a job with the company to allow her to go back and finish her Ph.D. We talked about our different life experiences and I came to realize that she had had a very difficult path to follow.
My parents had been, comparatively speaking, very well off. My family's estate had paid my way through the best schools that money could buy. Privilege and position had never interested me, though another branch of my family (who were really wealthy) had their names on several buildings at some very prominent universities. (And no, they weren't all the same names. Several were under maiden names of women in the family.) I was appalled at the way life had treated Shelli. Because of those conversations, there are a dozen small foundations that disperse funds for inner city scholarships and we have made some major donations to improving schools, especially in the sciences. It's funny how life works. What use is money to me here?
I heard stories about her family, her cousins and aunts, her brothers and her mother. When I asked about her father, I learned that he had gotten into trouble and left them to fend for themselves. Shelli now supported her mother. She felt it was deserved, as her mother had been a maid who had made sure that they had all graduated from high school. One brother had qualified to Annapolis and become a naval officer. The other was a CPA. Her mother was a remarkable woman. I wish that I could have meet her and thanked her for raising such a wonderful daughter.
She asked me questions about my life and I answered her honestly. She asked me why I wasn't married and I explained how I had missed out on that. She seemed to be sad that I had such a solitary existence and told me that her family was the most important thing in her life. I envied her that, I think.
The night we were released, I went back to my condominium in the chauffeur driven car that always brought me to and from the labs. I let myself in and raided the refrigerator. I'd given Maria the week off with pay and she'd flown down to her country for a vacation. I enjoyed being by myself after a week cooped up in isolation. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't glad to be away from Shelli, just glad to be away from the constantly monitoring cameras.
When Shelli had gotten home, she still had a stuffy nose from the cold and had spent the next day pampering herself, she told me later. We were (are) both very work orientated people, but after spending a week in the lab, we were both glad to be out of there. So we both enjoyed the next day just being by ourselves.
The day after, it was to be back to the grindstone. The doorman called up when the car arrived. Shelli had brought printouts from her house for us to go over in the car. It probably saved my life.
I put the cereal bowl in the sink and grabbed my brief case. It took a minute or so for the elevator to arrive after I pushed the button. One of the other tenants, a blonde woman who lived down the hall from me came out of her door and walked up. She saw that I had pushed the elevator button and stood there waiting. I had seen her a few dozen times during the past few years. She was very pretty in her blue jogging suit. She'd figured in a few of my nocturnal dreams, but I really hadn't paid much attention to her. She'd returned my hellos and given me polite smiles when we'd see each other.
This morning, while she was waiting for the elevator with me, she'd glanced over at me once after the polite hello. Then she'd glanced again.
"What's that you're wearing?"
"I'm not wearing cologne. Maybe it's my shampoo."
She'd leaned in closer, making me a little nervous. She sniffed my hair. A little sniff. Then she'd leaned even closer and sniffed deeply. I was horribly embarrassed, like I was a child being checked behind my ears for dirt. The elevator bonged and I was glad for an excuse to get some more room. She was well inside my personal zone. I moved aside and past her to the elevator car. Inside I pushed the button and turned around.
She put her tongue up to her lip and gave me a very unsettling stare. Then as the doors were closing, she put out her arm and came in too. She walked up to me and I backed up. What was the matter with her anyhow?
My back hit the rear wall of the car and she was suddenly on me, her arms around my neck and her lips locked on mine. She shoved her tongue in my mouth and moaned, pressing herself against me.
I didn't know what to do!
Outside of a few kisses from my mother and aunts, this was the first woman that I had ever kissed in my life! I froze, my brief case dropping onto the floor of the car with a thud. She brought her hands around and ripped my shirt open, then her hands were fumbling at my belt. She moved down me and pulled my pants and underwear down violently as she sank to her knees and her mouth lunged for my groin.