With my love of literature, and my friend’s love of chemistry, we had rare edition books stacked to the ceiling, and a lab tucked against the wall. There was a convergence of stuff scattered across the floor—scuba tanks, maps, weigh-lifting equipment, male hygiene products, and they mostly belonged to my friend, but I was also using them. I tagged-along, on his adventures. He was in the lead, with a mad, frustrated, clueless energy determining to solve the direction we were headed in, like a mathematical proof.
Our problem was women. I felt like solving the problem was inviting the problem, but my friend thought differently.
“Just wait until I perfect my suntan lotion,” he said. “It’s packed full of pheromones and will make women rabid.”
“I don’t know if I want to wear that stuff. You know I’m sensitive to smells.”
“You’re just sensitive; and you’re afraid to try new things. This might solve our female problem.” He poured some pink goo out of a test-tube and sucked it up with a syringe.
“First, I’ll try a child-proof test.” He put a drop of it on his wrist.
Burning flesh perfumed the air. “Aeehhh!”
“Put some baking soda on it,” I said. “I have acid reflux—this takes the acid out of my mouth.”
I poured it on his wrist—it foamed from the chemical burn. “Ahhh, that’s better. Obviously, I haven’t perfected it yet, but I have some chemistry students who are willing to be my Guinea Pigs.”
“Maybe you should read Ethics, by Plato?”
“Oh, that’s nonsense,” my friend said. “If I need to know something about that, I’ll just ask you.”
“Are we going to go to the beach?”
“Sure. In fact, let’s take the scuba gear, and look for Nazi gold.”
“You think we’re going to find anything?”
“No; but looking is more than half the fun. If we get bored, we can stare at the women on the nude beach. Nice is beautiful this time of year, and so are the women.”
My friend was looking for flesh. I was looking for something that was alive. I hadn’t found it yet, but it’s a lot like looking for god— you don’t know what he looks like, but you’ll know ‘im, when you find him.
We were diving, off our boat, looking at the submerged city. The water was warm, and my thoughts had completely left my head. I was like a fish that didn’t know it was swimming in the ocean.
“There’s one,” my friend said.
“Well, why don’t you go talk to her?”
He did. Clayton looked funny with his flippers, speedo, and air tank. As he approached the French girl, she started to laugh. Then he tried speaking French to her, and she laughed even more. I don’t understand French at all, but I do understand what she said. “I have a boyfriend.” Which is code for, “I don’t have a boyfriend, but there is no chance you are going to be.”
Clayton reentered the water like a slimy fish that had failed to evolve. His spine was gone, and he dog-paddled over to me.
“Come on, man; let’s go home.”
“Okay. What can I do to make you feel better?”
Clayton thought about it. “Hamburgers.”
“And Milkshakes?” I asked.
We went to Five Guys, near this enormous Cathedral, the French were building for over 200 years. They must really love god. Even the tourists, must love god. It reminded me of the States, because all the restaurants were American.
“I got to solve the female problem, man. I’m just getting too old to be a nerd.”
“You have a Ph.D. in Mathematics and Chemistry, and your brain stopped growing two years ago. Your personality is set in stone.”
“But what if we could change that?” Clayton asked. If we go someplace different, and live there, we can become different people.”
“That’s true,” I said. “Game theory is a theory of personality. It basically suggests, you know who you are based on how people react to you. Your friends and family have an invested interest in keeping you the same. Whenever you start to change, they remind you of who you are. In this way, they control you, because they love you. They don’t want to lose you. They like you, just how you are.”
“You’re one hell of a psychologist,” Clayton said.
“Perhaps; although it hasn’t helped me to solve the female problem. Maybe, we should take the chemical approach?”
When we got back to our apartment, Clayton started studying his chemical notes. “What a fool I’ve been! Instead of minus, this should be plus!” He ignited his Bunsen burner, and nauseatingly attractive fumes erupted like sex.
“Once this batch is done, and tested on my Guinea Pigs, we will know its effectiveness.” A week later, Clayton had a stupid grin spread across his face like a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich.
“My test subjects are women,” Clayton said. “They volunteered because they need the money, but it also may be that they’re more agreeable than my male subjects.” He talked like a King, presiding over his Kingdom. “All of the women fell in love with each other, just like I thought they would. Universities are progressive these days, so no harm done. Lesbianism is in vogue.”
“Clayton… the ethics of what you are doing…” I said.
He didn’t get it. “Would you like some?” Clayton asked. He was like the devil, tempting me with what I couldn’t get for myself. The bottle was pink. Clayton had drawn a nude woman chasing a nerdy man on the cover. He was not good at drawing. They were more like stick figures. He had included the obscene slogan: Make Her Chase You, underneath.
“Maybe you should’ve gone into advertising,” I said.
“Perhaps; but I like to mess with the secrets of the universe more than people’s minds— that’s your department.”
It was a good thing I liked Clayton. He was interesting. His condescension made him more interesting. All of his friends were like him, and most people couldn’t stand his friends. In fact, most people couldn’t stand me. I wondered how Clayton had changed me. There is no escaping the influence of your best friend. Now, I was less balanced, and more confident in myself.
“I’ll take some,” I said. I rubbed the sexy suntan lotion on my arms; they immediately turned brown. “What did you put in this?” I asked.
“You don’t want to know.”
“You ready to go to the beach again?”
“Sure!” Clayton said.
“We have to see if this stuff works.”
When we got there, the girls were lying under the sun, receiving rays, like love, soaking their sensual skin. Clayton and I were far-out from shore. The ocean breeze was blowing behind us. Suddenly, I saw the beach move. Topless women were sniffing the air, trying to discern, the direction of the wind. Then they saw us, and they started to wade into the water. I felt like Jesus Christ in my boat, preaching to the crowds. They all started to splash into the deep end.
“Let’s get out of here!” I screamed. “Gun the outboard!”
Clayton turned us around, and we docked. We got many looks from women on the street, but we made it to our apartment without getting molested.
“How do you take this stuff off?” I asked.
“Chemically, I think,” Clayton said.
“What do you mean, I think?”
“I never thought about creating an antidote.”
“Well, I need one, and fast!”
“What are you complaining about? Now females are attracted to you.”
“Yeah, but I don’t want ALL females attracted to me. You better work fast.”
There was knocking on our door. “You who…sexy boys.”
“It’s our land lady! Quick! Help me tie the bedsheets together. I’m going out the window!”
When I propped it open, there were dozens of women staring at me. I slammed it shut.
“You’ve doomed us forever! Bolt the door, man! Start working!”
“But!” Clayton complained.
“No buts! I’m serious!” The lotion was making me sick. The thought that I couldn’t get away from women was worse than I had ever imagined. It was worse than a celebrity who becomes famous. I made Clayton take amphetamines to stay awake. Three days later, he had the antidote.
“You did it, man. I always knew you could.”
“Are you sure?”
“What choice did you have? I would’ve strangled you, if you didn’t.”
Fear flashed across his face.
I wasn’t lying.