The Rosie Project Page 68

There was a mirror on the inside of the closet in my office which I had never needed before. Now I used it to review my appearance. I expected I would have only one chance to cut through Rosie\s negative view of me and produce an emotional reaction. I wanted her to fall in love with me.

Protocol dictated that I should not wear a hat indoors, but I decided that the PhD students\ area could be considered public. On that basis, it would be acceptable. I checked the mirror again. Rosie had been right. In my grey three-piece suit, I could be mistaken for Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Tillman. World\s se*iest man.

Rosie was at her desk. So was Stefan, looking unshaven as always. I had my speech prepared.

\Good afternoon, Stefan. Hi, Rosie. Rosie, I\m afraid it\s short notice but I was wondering if you\d join me for dinner this evening. There\s something I\d like to share with you.\

Neither spoke. Rosie looked a little stunned. I looked at her directly. \That\s a charming pendant,\ I said. \I\ll pick you up at 7.45.\ I was shaking as I walked away, but I had given it my best effort. Hitch from Hitch would have been pleased with me.

I had two more visits to make before my evening date with Rosie.

I walked straight past Helena. Gene was in his office looking at his computer. On the screen was a photo of an Asian woman who was not conventionally attractive. I recognised the format - she was a Wife-Project Applicant. Place of Birth - North Korea.

Gene looked at me strangely. My Gregory Peck costume was doubtless unexpected but appropriate for my mission.

\Hi, Gene.\

\What\s with the ’’Hi’’? What happened to ’’Greetings’’?\

I explained that I had eliminated a number of unconventional mannerisms from my vocabulary.

\So Claudia tells me. You didn\ think your regular mentor was up to the job?\

I wasn\ sure what he meant.

He explained. \Me. You didn\ ask me.\

This was correct. Feedback from Rosie had prompted me to reassess Gene\s social competence, and my recent work with Claudia and the movie exemplars had confirmed my suspicion that his skills applied to a limited domain, and that he was not employing them in the best interests of himself and his family.

\No,\ I told him. \I wanted advice on socially appropriate behaviour.\

\What\s that supposed to mean?\

\Obviously, you\ e similar to me. That\s why you\ e my best friend. Hence this invitation.\ There had been a great deal of preparation for this day. I gave Gene an envelope. He did not open it but continued the conversation.

\I\m like you? No offence, Don, but your behaviour - your old behaviour - was in a class of its own. If you want my opinion, you hid behind a persona that you thought people found amusing. It\s hardly surprising people saw you as a ... buffoon.\

This was exactly my point. But Gene was not making the connection. As his buddy, it was my duty to behave as an adult male and give it to him straight.

I walked over to his map of the world, with a pin for every conquest. I checked it for what I hoped would be the last time. Then I stabbed it with my finger, to create an atmosphere of threat.

\Exactly,\ I said. \You think people see you as a Casanova. You know what? I don\ care what other people think of you, but, if you want to know, they think you\ e a jerk. And they\ e right, Gene. You\ e fifty-six years old with a wife and two kids, though for how much longer I don\ know. Time you grew up. I\m telling you that as a friend.\

I watched Gene\s face. I was getting better at reading emotions, but this was a complex one. Shattered, I think.

I was relieved. The basic male - male tough advice protocol had been effective. It had not been necessary to slug him.

32

I went back to my office and changed from my Gregory Peck costume into my new trousers and jacket. Then I made a phone call. The receptionist was not prepared to make an appointment for a personal matter, so I booked a fitness evaluation with Phil Jarman, Rosie\s father in air quotes, for 4.00 p.m.

As I got up to leave, the Dean knocked and walked in. She signalled for me to follow her. This was not part of my plan, but today was an appropriate day to close this phase of my professional life.

We went down in the lift and then across the campus to her office, not speaking. It seemed that our conversation needed to take place in a formal setting. I felt uncomfortable, which was a rational response to the almost-certain prospect of being dismissed from a tenured position at a prestigious university for professional misconduct. But I had expected this and my feelings came from a different source. The scenario triggered a memory from my first week at high school, of being sent to the headmaster\s office as a result of allegedly inappropriate behaviour. The purported misconduct involved a rigorous questioning of our religious education teacher. In retrospect, I understood that she was a well-meaning person, but she used her position of power over an eleven-year-old to cause me considerable distress.

The headmaster was, in fact, reasonably sympathetic, but warned me that I needed to show \ espect\. But he was too late: as I walked to his office I had made the decision that it was pointless to try to fit in. I would be the class clown for the next six years.

I have thought about this event often. At the time my decision felt like a rational response based on my assessment of the new environment, but in retrospect I understood that I was driven by anger at the power structure that suppressed my arguments.


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