by Carl Perrin
I was sitting in the cafeteria eating a hamburger when Julie Bloom sat down opposite me. Julie is the sexiest woman I have ever seen, certainly the sexiest woman at Stanton, Inc. Her red hair billows over her shoulders. She always wears short skirts that reveal her long legs and low-cut tops that made it difficult for me, sitting across from her, to know where to look.
“Do you mind if I sit here, Big Boy?” she asked.
She started nibbling her salad. Then she looked up at me and said, “I see your hamburger is very rare. I guess a real man like you has to have a lot of red meat to keep your strength up.” She smiled at me.
I hardly knew the woman, although I admit I sometimes look at her and have harbored sexual fantasies about her. I wondered what was going on.
“I must say, you’re a very talented writer.”
“You know, those text messages you’ve been sending me. They’re really hot. They made me want to get to know you better.”
“Stop repeating everything I say, lover boy.”
She had slipped one of her shoes off, and she was rubbing her foot along my calf. Then she started moving her foot further up my leg.
“Maybe we can get together after work.”
I stopped myself from repeating her words. “I am meeting my wife after work today.” I’m not sure why I added “today”; I wasn’t planning to meet her any other day.
“Yes,” I said, holding up my left hand.
“It doesn’t matter to me whether you’re married or not.”
I had no idea what was going on. Was it some kind of joke? Was someone trying to set me up?
She got up then and kissed me on the cheek. “Maybe some other day.” She put her hand on my hair and mussed it up.
I hate it when people do that. My hair is, well, it’s kind of thin. If I arrange it carefully and then use lots of hair spray, it will look like I have almost a full head of hair.
I sat there, puzzled for a while. I wondered what was going on. Then I realized who was behind it all.
Everybody these days uses some kind of digital assistant. You can’t get along without one. At the very least, people use them to order a pizza, make reservations at a restaurant, or make routine phone calls. I admit I go to extremes with my assistant. I use it to make airline reservations, get two tickets for every Red Sox home game. It automatically orders flowers for my wife, Gina, for Valentine’s Day and our anniversary. A lot of people give their assistants a name. I call mine Dorothy. I use Dorothy to set up meetings. I even rely on her to write routine memos.
I also have a human administrative assistant at work, Evelyn Sands, but I rely more on my digital assistant. I am one of a dozen vice-presidents at Stanton, Inc. I tell people that I’m the vice-president in charge of paper clips. It’s just a little joke. One of the people who reports to me is the person who maintains the inventory of office supplies.
Some people use Siri or Alexa, but I prefer the Google Assistant. It is far superior to its rivals. They all use voice recognition, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to function. Google is a little better at voice recognition, and it has a larger store of information to draw from. It has vast amounts of data built over the years from the Google search function. Also, if I have a conversation with Dorothy on one day and go back to it on another day, she will remember what we said previously.
Over the past few years Google has added some unique features to its assistants. They are programmed to learn more about their owners. This is partly from machine learning. As the owner requests certain duties continually, the assistant learns that the same requests will be asked for over and over again. For example, I don’t have to remind Dorothy to order flowers for Gina for Mothers’ Day or tickets for Red Sox home games. She remembers things like that for me.
The other way that Dorothy learns more about me is by monitoring my vital signs. She can tell if my pulse is racing, my blood pressure is climbing, or my breath is getting shallow, and she can interpret these signs to determine my state of mind. Sometimes if I have had a bad day at work, I will go home to find that Dorothy has had a bottle of Johnny Walker Red delivered to my house.
That’s how I knew my digital assistant had set up my encounter with Julie Bloom in the cafeteria. As soon as I could, I had a little talk with Dorothy. “What did you mean by trying to fix me up with Julie Bloom?”
“I know that you lust after her. I can tell by the way your heart races and your blood pressure jumps when you see her.”
“That doesn’t mean I want to have a fling with her. It could cause a lot of trouble with me. If I had an affair with a Stanton employee, someone could bring a charge of sexual harassment against me. I could lose my job.”
“All right. I won’t try to set you up with any Stanton employees.”
“Don’t try to set me up with anyone. I’m a married man, Dorothy!”
“But I always hear you arguing with your wife.”
“Gina and I argue sometimes, but so does every other married couple. I love her, and I have no desire to get divorced or to have a fling with anyone.”
“All right, Jimmy. I’m just trying to take care of your needs.”
Sometimes we forget that these digital assistants are not human beings. They are so much smarter than anyone you know. But they lack common sense.
* * *
Gina was waiting for me when I got home that evening. She didn’t even wait for me to take off my coat before she began.
“I heard that you’ve been hanging around with that bimbo, Julie Bloom.”
I knew who had been her source of information: Freddie Small. Like me, Small was one of the VPs at Stanton, Inc. At company social affairs he always flirted with Gina. He would point at me and say things to Gina like, “Why don’t you get rid of that loser and run away with me. We could have a great time together.”
Gina thought he was funny. I thought he was obnoxious. I knew he called her sometimes during the day. She told me when he called. When I objected, she would say, “You don’t have to be jealous. I know he’s only joking.”
I hung up my coat and said, “I was not exactly hanging around with Julie Bloom. I was sitting in the cafeteria, and she just sat down at the same table. I don’t even like her. I got away as soon as I could.”
I don’t know if I convinced Gina, but she accepted my explanation, and we had a cocktail before dinner.
* * *
The next morning, my office door burst open, and George Fletcher marched up to my desk, waving his mart phone under my nose.
“What is it, George? What’s the problem?”
“You know damn well what the problem is.” Still waving the phone in front of me. “Is this any way to treat a man who has worked for Stanton for thirty-seven years?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, George.”
“You fired me, you son of a bitch. Don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about.”
He thrust the phone into my hands. It was an email, supposedly from me telling George he was fired as of today.
“Honestly, George. I didn’t write that. This is the first I’ve seen of it.”
“No, you didn’t write it yourself. You had Evelyn write it for you.”
“No, Evelyn didn’t write it, either. My administrative assistant wouldn’t write something like that unless I told her to, and I certainly didn’t tell her to.”
I knew Evelyn hadn’t written it, but I had a damned good idea who had.
“Thirty-seven years. Thirty-seven goddamn years, and this is how I am treated.”
George’s face began to twist. I thought he was going to start crying.
“George, George, calm down. You’re not getting fired. It’s all some kind of terrible mistake. I’ll get to the bottom of it and take care of things. Don’t you worry.”
I got up and shook his hand. I smiled and said, “You let us know when you’re ready to retire, and we’ll have a big party for you.” I pumped his hand again and clapped him on the shoulder. “Thirty-seven years. Wow, that is really something. That is loyalty, and Stanton, Inc. appreciates that kind of loyalty.”
* * *
My digital assistant, Dorothy, knows all kinds of things, but she doesn’t know the protocol for firing someone. Sending an email doesn’t do it. It has to go through payroll, human resources, and the employee’s department head. I checked with all of these and found that none of them had been notified. George Fletcher had not been fired at all.
As soon as I could, I had a talk with Dorothy. “What did you mean in trying to fire George Fletcher?” I asked.
“You are always saying that he is incompetent, he is always making mistakes that cost the company money, and that the company would be better off without him. Logically, the best way to handle the situation is to fire him. The company would save money by not having to fix his mistakes and wasting money by paying him a salary.”
“Dorothy, do not ever again make a decision on behalf of the company. Your decision could have created a lot of trouble for the company and for me. He could have sued Stanton, Inc. for age discrimination. It could have cost the company a lot of money and cost it good will, which would have hurt business. If people thought Stanton mistreated older employees, a lot of people would not want to do business with us. So, do not ever again make a decision for the company in my name or under any other circumstances.”
* * *
In the afternoon I like to get away from things and relax for a few minutes. I was sitting in the cafeteria, enjoying a cup of coffee and a slice of cherry pie. The cherry pie in the cafeteria is the best I have ever tasted. Then I looked up and saw Julie Bloom heading toward me.
She pulled out a chair and sat down opposite me. “Mind if I sit here?”
What could I say?
She arranged her plate and then said, “I understand you’re going to Paris.”
“Yes. To explore expanding our product into the European market.”
“I know Stanton, Inc. is going to look into developing our market in Europe, but I’m not part of that exploratory group. I’m involved in a new product development here.”
“That doesn’t mean you can’t take a week to investigate European markets. Are you trying to keep secrets from me?”
“You’re so cute when you repeat what I say.”
She had slipped off her shoe and was rubbing her foot on my ankle. I moved my feet back under my chair so she couldn’t reach my feet unless she scooted way down in her chair.
Instead she reached across the table and put her hand over mine. “It’s all right,” she said. “I have a secret, too.”
“You have a secret?”
“That’s what I said, Jimmy. I have a secret.”
I leaned forward to hear what her secret was.
“I’m going to Paris too, Jimmy. They wanted someone from merchandise to be part of the committee. Just think, we’ll have a whole week together in Paris, la Ville-Lumière. We can have some real fun.” She winked at me and got up from the table.
When I got back to my office, Freddie Small was waiting for me. He held up his cell phone and said, “If you don’t watch it, Franklin, you can get in serious trouble.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Don’t act innocent with me.”
“I still don’t know.”
He leaned forward, his face just an inch from mine. “You threatened to beat me up if I didn’t stay away from your wife.”
“I didn’t make any such threat.”
“I have it on my phone,” he said. Then he walked out.
Gina was waiting for me when I came in the door.
“When were you going to tell me, Jimmie? When were you going to confess that you were running off to Paris with that slut, Julie Bloom?”
“That’s not the way it is at all. I wasn’t keeping any secrets.”
“Then why didn’t you tell me before that Stanton was sending you to Paris?”
“I just found out this afternoon, sweetheart. They were going to send Freddie Small, but there was a last-minute change. They’re sending me instead.”
“Yes, you and the bimbo.”
“It’s true that Julie Bloom is going. But so are you. I asked Evelyn to make reservations for the two of us. We can spend a few days after the conference to explore Paris.”
I thought she was going to cry. Then she said, “Oh, Jimmie, that is sweet. You know I always wanted to go to Paris.”
* * *
The next morning, I went in to the office to clear up a few things before we got ready to go to Paris. I found out that the reason the company had asked me to replace Freddie Small at the conference, is that they were letting Freddie go. There had been several sexual harassment complaints about him.
The most important thing I did that morning was to get Jerry Brewer from IT to do something with my phone.
“I want you to murder Dorothy,” I told him.
He looked at me wide-eyed. “That’s not exactly the thing we do at IT.” He said.
“Dorothy is not a person,” I assured him. “It’s the Google Assistant on my phone.”
“Aren’t going to be lost without a digital assistant?”
“I’m going from here to the telephone company to get an iPhone. I’ll use Siri as my digital assistant and, from the beginning, I’ll make clear to Siri that she is not to do anything without my explicit order.”
Copyright © 2020 by Carl Perrin