Hello valued customer. My name is Andrea. Thank you for this phone call to Monolith Corp. How may I be of assistance to you today?”
“What? Oh! Excuse me! I fell asleep waiting for you to answer. I’m having a problem logging onto my account. You keep saying my password is wrong, so I asked for a new password to be emailed to me but when I follow the link in the email you sent, I don’t see anywhere to create a new password.”
“I am most humbly sorry for the problem you are having. I can see how this problem would be most frustrating. Let me get to work on solving this issue right away. Could you please give me your account number?
“You can access that on the profile page of your account.”
“But I can’t log into my account to see my account number.”
That’s alright, let’s try it with your email address and password.
“Well my email is email@example.com and my password is ‘ih8monolith’. Sorry.”
“That’s okay. Lots of people have that password. Now, can you tell me your address?”
123 Parkdale Avenue, Pleasantville, Nova Scotia.
“That sounds right, your date of birth please?”
“April 23, 1968.”
“Thank you. Are you Joe Bloggs?”
“Well, thank you Mr. Bloggs. Before we can proceed I’m going to ask you to download a program that will allow me to work on your computer. Check your email. You should have it by shortly.”
“Okay, I think I’ve got it.”
“Okay, just click the link. That should take you to a web site where you’ll read a disclaimer and then click the download button.”
“Okay, I’m just clicking now… going to your web site… looking at the disclaimer. It’s pretty long. I’m scrolling down… down… down… okay, I agree. Downloading, downloading, downloading, authorizing, opening, there I think you should be able to see my screen now.”
The Monolith logo appeared on Joe’s screen. He heard a sharp intake of breath.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes, sir, excuse me. I’ll reset your password now. Can you give me a password that you’ll remember and I’ll input it?”
“Um, okay, how about ‘passw0rd’?”
“Sorry, sir, it has to be longer than that.”
“I’m sorry, I just can’t think of anything.”
“Okay, look I shouldn’t do this, but you seem pretty trustworthy. I’ll give you a password and you can use that to log on. Then go to your profile page and change it, using letters and numbers like I told you”
“Okay, do you want to tell me?”
“I’m going to whisper it, I don’t want my colleagues to hear. Just lean into the screen.”
“Okay, leaning in.”
“Okay, here’s your password: I am a handsome man. No caps no spaces”
“What? Are you kidding? That’s the nicest thing I’ve heard all day!”
“Well, I assure you sir, it’s true. I should have told you this earlier but when we send this special program to your computer it means we can see you. We’re not supposed to use the camera without telling you so please don’t tell anyone.”
“Can I see you?”
“Oh, no, I’m sorry, our computers aren’t that good. We’re just running Windows.”
“Oh, so where are you actually? I’m not going to run into you downtown or something am I?”
“I’m sorry sir, I’m not allowed to tell you that.. I’m in enough trouble already.”
“OK, listen, this is kind of stupid, but what makes you think I’m handsome?”
“Sir, it’s obvious! You have penetrating eyes, a flowing mane of hair, a strong jaw and your prominent cheekbones give you a craggy appearance, especially with that beard stubble. Hey, just a minute, Can I show you to my colleagues? Please? Is that okay?”
“Well, let me just comb my hair or something. Back in a sec.”
In the bathroom, Joe looked at his face in the mirror. Big nose, pimply skin, weak chin, yellow teeth. How could anyone think he was handsome?
“Sir, please! We’re waiting.”
“Alright, here I am,” said Joe, walking towards the computer
He heard a sharp intake of breath and a voice: “Oh! My! God! Can I take him home?”
“Andrea, he’s perfect!” There were many giggles.
Joe couldn’t help but grin, setting off more giggles.
“Can we take your picture? said a shy voice.”
“Sorry, girls, back to work. Sir, I’ve got to go, our supervisor’s on the way in. Goodbye, I”ll never forget this!”
The Monolith logo disappeared revealing the spreadsheet Joe had been working on.
“What just happened?” Joe thought. He turned on the camera in his computer, something he’d never done. His face looked unfamiliar, It was as if he was seeing himself for the first time. He looked past the acne, the scraggly beard and tried to see what Andrea had seen. There did seem to be a certain depth in his eyes and, under the right light, his cheekbones were almost prominent. If he lowered his jaw his cheeks hollowed out, giving his face a craggy look. If he held his head up, his chin looked stronger. He scowled. He smiled, He shrugged, put on a quizzical look. Tried looking thoughtful. He moved the desk lamp to one side and the lighting became more dramatic. He scowled again and tried for a commanding look.
“Hello,” he said to the beautiful girl, “I’ve got backstage tickets to our concert tonight. We can hang out when I’m not playing lead guitar. You wanna come?”
“Sure, said his boss. We’ve been taking you for granted. That last programming routine you devised is working really well. Let me speak to our accountant, I’m sure we can make you a better offer.”
“Well make it quick, he snapped to the scruffy papparazo, I’ve got things to do.”
“He turned towards the courthouse steps and took them three at a time, the crowd falling back behind him.”
“Where does he get his energy puffed a reporter to his cameraman. President of the World Bank and he’s only 24!”
“Glad to see you sir, said the uniformed pilot as he stepped aboard the rooftop helicopter.”
Joe thought he’d love to be handsome. Could Andrea be right? No, that was ridiculous. He was, at best, unremarkable.
But what if she really was right?
Joe practiced his looks in the camera all afternoon, creating screenshots as he went. He tried looking quizzical, interested, sensitive, empathic, tortured, angry, domineering, menacing. He swaggered, leaned, and stood, legs apart, with arms folded over his chest. When daylight faded, he showered, shaved, worked gel into his hair, ran deodorant under his arms and left his seedy apartment chewing on a breath mint. He strode among the evening crowd. He glared penetratingly about. He loitered with intent.
But the world wasn’t noticing. He sauntered down the sidewalk, thumbs tucked in his belt, past confectionaries, coffee shops and grocery stores. He frowned thoughtfully at sales clerks in a department store and cast his laser eyes into a bus window. He purchased a pack of gum in a commanding voice ordered coffee in a silky baritone. He was gazing knowingly into his cup when he felt a nudge at his shoulder. He turned.
“I see you’re practicing your mirror face,” said a well-dressed young man. He looked like a salesman with his blue suit, red tie and briefcase. “Have you got the empathic, listening look down yet? The chicks love it.”
“Who are you?”
“Just some guy who met Andrea over a computer. She told me I was devastatingly handsome. She showed me to the girls in the office. They went gaga. One of them actually fell out of her chair.”
“Jeez, I didn’t do that good. Hey, please don’t take this the wrong way but you’re not all that good looking.”
“Well you’re pretty ugly yourself.”
“Oh. Yeah, I kinda thought so. So I guess it was just a big pep-talk. Did it do you any good?”
“Are you kidding? I mean look at me! Look at me! I got a raise last week. But I quit my job anyway because our competitor made me VP of Sales. I asked for a company car but they gave me a limo with a full-time driver instead. Hey Helena!”
“Yessir!” An immaculately groomed amazon stepped out of the crowd which had formed around them. Several people were using cell phone cameras. “How can I help?”
Joe’s jaw dropped. He’d never seen a more beautiful woman.
“You get used to it,” his new friend said. “You just gotta believe Andrea. She says you’re handsome, you go with it.
“Let’s go Helena!”
“Yes sir! The pair stepped away from the coffee counter and cut a path through the adoring multitude.
Cameras snapped as the man looked back: “you wanna be like me you gotta pay for the whole package. Costs every dime you’ve got but it’s worth it! Here!” he said tossing a business card to Joe. “I don’t need this anymore.”
Joe scanned the crowd for the prettiest girl and tried a shy, sincere smile.
“Oh!” she gasped. The camera dropped to the floor.
Joe crouched over her motionless body. She was really very pretty, he thought. He reached across her chest for the business card as the girl began to stir. She stared at him goggle-eyed.
Joe consulted the card and reached for his cell phone.