Jenny and the Bots

An old story, that I decided not to update completely…

“What do you mean, it can’t be fixed?”

I looked sadly at the blackened computer case, then back at Dixon. “The circuits can’t be repaired,” I said, “they have to be replaced, and unfortunately we don’t have the extra parts here right now, because the company is still moving in.”

Dixon sighed. As I wondered just how my unprofessional explanation would sound to him, he replied, “Well, we can’t get any work done without any computers, so we may as well call it a day.”

I left the office grumbling. I never could understand how a company so dependent on technology would allow itself to be caught sleeping like this. Things break down. You would think somebody would make sure there were extra parts and extra machines around. Then again, I don’t usually carry oil or water in the trunk of my car, so who am I to talk?

Anyway, I was in a foul mood as I entered Domingo de Shanghai, my usual Thursday lunch spot. My first impulse was to go straight to the back, but I figured some sunlight might lift me
out of my funk, so I sat near the entrance.

I ordered arroz con pollo, with some fresh-squeezed lemonade and a bottle of Budweiser. I looked around at the crowd in the restaurant, and saw the usual mix: tourists sampling a mixture of Chinese and Cuban cuisines they had never tried (or even heard of) before; local Chinese-Cubans, other Latinos and Chinese sampling dishes from the “other side,” and hungry folks like me, who just wanted to eat.

The waiter brought my food and I dug in. I was lost in thought, and so I didn’t notice the commotion when a particularly well-known “native daughter” came in. After a while, the buzz became hard to ignore, what with people stopping outside the restaurant to stare into the window and all, so I looked around to see what all the fuss was about. I must really have been deep in thought, because the cause of all the commotion was only two tables away. There, smiling and signing autographs, was none other then Jennifer Lopez.

That smile. When Jennifer Lopez smiles, it seems like all is right with the world, and anyone who sees that smile will do anything in their power to keep her smiling. I was instantly lost in thought again, imagining myself as the cause of that angelic smile. When I “came to,” I realized that she actually was smiling at me! She would look my way, then glance away shyly. Once, though, she looked directly at me, then at the empty seat next to her, then back at me. I gathered my wits and went over to her table.

My opening line was pure stupidity. “Are you . . . really . . . Jennifer Lopez?” My face grew hot with embarrassment at what I had just said.

She just laughed (I was in heaven!) and answered, “Who else would I be?”

“I know, I know,” I said, recovering. “That was a stupid question. I imagine that beautiful smile of yours does that to a lot of guys.”

“The ones who speak, that is. Most just smile and stare.”

“They just smile and stare?” I repeated. “The smiling I can understand. Maybe even the staring. But they have to be crazy to pass up the opportunity to meet an angel like yourself.” (I knew about such craziness. If she hadn’t invited me over to her table with her eyes, I would have been just as crazy myself.)

That smile grew wider, and she turned away shyly and started to blush. I stared in amazement, not wanting to stare since she was blushing, but at the same time not wanting to believe I was getting this kind of reaction from a celebrity. While still looking away, she said, “Aren’t you gonna sit down? Your food must be getting cold.”

Silly me! I had forgotten all about food. I went back to my table, where the busboy was already busy putting my food on a tray to transfer it to Jennifer’s table. I looked back at her, just in time to see her turn away again, with that same shy grin on her face. As happy as I was to see that heavenly grin, something about it didn’t sit right with me. I also had a nagging feeling I was forgetting something, or that I was supposed to be somewhere else. But why would I want to be anywhere but here, sitting down to eat lunch with Jennifer Lopez?

I followed the busboy back to her table, where he began setting my place. As he worked, I could hear him saying something to her in Spanish. I know a little Spanish, but it might not have occurred to them that I’d understand (I’m African-American). I didn’t quite make out what he said, but I heard her answer, and understood it clearly: “No, el no sabé, pero voy a decírle (No, he doesn’t know, but I’m going to tell him).” Naturally I wondered what that was about, but decided not to ask.

Time seemed to fly as we talked and ate. Among other things, I told her it was hard for me to believe she had never released any Spanish-language music in the wake of the Selena movie. After I found out she had done her own singing for the movie’s concert scenes, I was sure she’d put out a record. No, she assured me, On the 6 was her first.

As we talked and talked, I paid no attention to the time or to anything but what was going on at our (oops, I mean “her”) table. I was completely wrapped up in the moment, until I felt heat radiating from the restaurant entrance. I glanced over, and immediately I realized why I had that “forgetting something” feeling. In the doorway stood my furious girlfriend, Sharon, with enough angry heat emanating from her to melt any glass for a yard in each direction.

* * * * *

Let me explain something about my ex-girlfriend (oops — didn’t mean to let that slip). Hers is the original one-track mind. If she’s busy reading, nothing short of a nuclear strike will interrupt her concentration unless she wants to be interrupted. She plays hard, sleeps like a rock, and when she’s mad . . . Well, usually with people like that you warn, “Watch out,” to anyone who might cross her path, but in her case, her anger is always directed only at the person who provoked it. In this instance, that person was me.

“Omigod, Sharon, I’m sorry I forgot –” The one word I should have known better than to use was “forgot.”

“You forgot? YOU FORGOT? ” She took a deep breath. “That figures. I should have seen this coming. You never forget the things you want to do, but I suggest a simple little lunch to work things out, and you forget. Everyday you give me a new reason to wonder why I put up with you. I THOUGHT that MAYBE we could work things out over lunch, and then you go and pull something like THIS!”

“Um, maybe I should leave…” Jennifer started.

Sharon turned toward Jennifer and I instinctively braced myself for the worst. I knew that Sharon knew I wasn’t a star-kisser, but as angry as she was I didn’t expect her to be rational about finding the man who had just stood her up sitting in a restaurant eating lunch with a beautiful celebrity. In the second or so before Sharon recognized Jennifer her face was the reflection of pure rage, and I envisioned Sharon ripping one of Jennifer’s arms out of the socket and beating me with it.. Then the rage gave way to recognition mixed with a touch of suspicion. “Aren’t you . . . I mean, you look like . . . No, you can’t be . . . Jennifer Lopez?”

“That’s me,” Jennifer replied, her usual smile laced with more than a little relief.

“Ohmigod I’ve seen all of your movies and I just bought your record and I don’t know what that reviewer was talking about you have a beautiful voice and –” Sharon stopped suddenly, and turned to face me, as more suspicion found its way into her face. “Wait a minute. What’s going on here, anyway? Is this why you stood me up? So you can have lunch with Jennifer Lopez?”

Before I could answer, Jennifer came to my rescue. “No no no, this wasn’t planned,” she said truthfully. “We met for the first time here, today, just a few minutes ago.”

“For the first time,” Sharon repeated.

“I mean –” Jennifer started.

Sharon sighed. “I know what you meant, but it’s just as well. John, this lunch we were supposed to have together, it would have been our last, right?”

I looked down at the table. This was awkward, but no amount of avoiding the issue would make it any less awkward. “Yeah, that would have been it. I was trying to decide whether to tell you right after lunch, or later this evening.”

“I saw it coming. We’ve been growing apart for a long time now, so this was a blessing in disguise. The lunch would have been very uncomfortable for both of us.” Sharon leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. I couldn’t let her go with that, so I stood up and hugged her and gave her a proper good-bye kiss on the lips. After a minute or two, she let go of me and walked out of the restaurant, trying her best not to let me see the tears running down her face.

I don’t know if I’ve ever personally experienced a more awkward silence than the one between Jennifer and me after Sharon had left. I wanted desperately to enjoy whatever was left of this lunch, since I don’t get chances like this one very often, but Sharon’s leaving had basically deflated me. I had no idea what to say next. I wasn’t even sure I should try to continue.

“Are you OK?” Jennifer asked, with genuine concern.

“Yeah. I’ll be OK, anyway. I’m gonna miss Sharon, though. I knew this day was coming, but I don’t think I realized just how hard this would be. It’s just that, I don’t know, it’s like we come from different worlds. It was exciting at first, but she’s so high-maintenance. I need an around the way girl. Know any available?”

Jennifer laughed, a natural, completely unselfconscious laugh that made me sure I wanted to know if she was only flirting with me, or if she had something more in mind. I wasn’t in the mood for a flirt. I had just lost my girlfriend, and you could say I was in a hurry to find a replacement.

“You wanna hear something strange?” Jennifer asked me. “We just started talking like we were old friends or something, but you never did tell me your name.”

“John Doe.”

“Come on, I’m serious.”

“So am I. My father is Wesley Doe, and my mother’s name is Shirley. Her maiden name is Wilson, so they named me John Wilson Doe.”

“You must have been teased a lot in school,” she said.

“In school,” I replied, “and everywhere I’ve worked. It’s like people saved all their old corny name jokes from school, in case they might need them later in life.”

She laughed again as she gathered her things to leave the restaurant. She insisted on paying for both our lunches. “After all, I invited you over to my table. That makes you my guest,” she said as she handed over her Gold MasterCard.

“I suppose. I’ll never argue when the woman wants to pay.”

” ‘You’ll never’? You
planning to leave me already?”

“Huh?” I’m really good at playing dumb.

“You must have thought I was just flirting. I wasn’t. It’s very difficult to find somebody that’s not trying to be Mack Daddy and not trying to sell himself, if you know what I mean.”

“But you travel in such high circles . . .”

“And so many of those people are fake. I need somebody real around me.” She took my hand, kissed it, and said, with big sad puppy-dog eyes, “Won’t you stay and keep me company? Puh-leeze?”

She knew how to use that face to her benefit. “I can’t look into that face, see that smile, hear that laugh, and then tell you no.” I felt like I was king of the world, like nothing anyone could throw at me could hurt me, not as long as this vision would always be near me.

But she was hiding a secret.

* * * * *

As we walked hand-in-hand along the street, I got the distinct impression that something was bugging her. She wouldn’t say anything, but her smile seemed just a little bit dulled, her laugh just a little bit subdued. Finally, I asked her to stop walking. Turning to face her, I took both her hands in mine, looked directly into her eyes, and said, “I can see something is bothering you. You don’t seem to be in the same mood as you were back in the restaurant. What’s wrong?”

“Is it that obvious?” she asked.

“More. Spill it.”

“Well . . .” She squirmed nervously, as if she was afraid she’d be in some kind of trouble. “I wasn’t exactly truthful with you back at Domingo’s.”

“What do you mean?”

“You must have wondered why I was blushing and acting so shy back there,” she said.

I was, but didn’t give it a whole lot of thought. “Yeah, so? You said you don’t run into a lot of ‘real’ guys. I thought maybe it was just a reaction to that.”

“Well, it was more than that. I wasn’t exactly truthful when I told you I was Jennifer Lopez.”

“What do you mean? Are you saying you’re NOT Jennifer Lopez? Wait, I know! You’re that other Jennifer… what’s her name… Esposito, right?” I was still holding her hands as I asked her this.

“No, I’m not Jennifer Esposito, either,” she said, chuckling. “I’m not exactly anyone.” She pulled her hands from mine and shoved them into her pockets, looking away from me.

“What do you mean, not anyone?” I replied. “You have to be someone, and I’m sure I’d know if that angelic face wasn’t who it was presenting itself to be.” I studied her as I spoke. I was sure I’d be able to tell if she were an impersonator, or a fangirl who’d had surgery to make her look like Jennifer Lopez. I was sure she was the genuine article.

“You said ‘itself.’ Interesting choice of words.”

“What are you saying?” As I asked this, I took a step back.

She sighed hard, then looked me straight in the eye and said, “I’m saying that I’m a fembot.

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