Monday, August 30, 2010

Made To Order

Rivky had a long, detailed list. However, her multi-page “manifesto” as her dating mentor jokingly called it, was nothing compared to the extensive set of possibilities displayed on the computer screen in front of her. She had always wanted her prince charming to be tall, dark, and handsome, but this newest “shadchan” wanted to know her preference for shade of hair and eye color, specific height (down to quarter-inch intervals), shoulder width, nose size, ear spread, even pitch of speaking voice. Rivky was happy to note the option for a splendid singing voice, which she eagerly checked off. Her circle of friends was always talking about hoping for husbands who would lead beautiful zemiros at their future Shabbos tables, and she agreed that she needed this as one of her must-have, top priorities.

There were simply so many particular details to browse through! Rivky wasn’t an indecisive person, but she had to admit she was a little overwhelmed with all the decisions she had to make on the seemingly endless range of specifics being presented to her. There was much to consider aside from physical attributes and looks. She could specify if she wanted a kollelnik or working boy, his level of learning proficiency, what sort of secular education background he possessed, personal attitudes, hashkafa, mood tendencies, food and music preferences, and even what style of shoe he liked to wear!

Rivky knew that she wanted a husband who was a learner and an earner, but not the type of guy who just learned daf yomi for 45 minutes a day after davening. He needed to be a real masmid with a good learning head on his shoulders who could give the daf yomi shiur because he already knew shas almost ba’al peh. Her future husband would also be adept at his career and able to properly support his growing family in a comfortable, but not too extravagant fashion. He had to be sensitive, loving, giving, and willing to do anything for her because she was going to be his queen, presiding over his household in grandeur. Rivky already imagined the meals she would cook, perhaps with some hired help, in her magnificently decorated and supplied kitchen, served in her luxurious grand dining room, with all their beautiful, well-behaved children arranged around their table.

Despite having her “work” cut out for her, Rivky remained undaunted in the task at hand. This was going to be it, her absolutely perfect shidduch! No more pointless outings to hotel lobbies and long, aimless walks in the park, or taking hours to make herself up to please an ungrateful, unkempt, ill-mannered brute date after date. By this time next year, she will have settled into blissful married life with the beloved soul mate she always dreamed of.

Out of the corner of her eye, Rivky noticed another figure across the office at another computer station who was deeply involved in the same procedure she was tackling. Totally engrossed in her decision making, Rivky paid the young man no mind as he intensely went about his own check list examination.

Benjy was having the time of his life. Going through all the options, leaving no stone unturned in fulfilling all of his desires for an ezer k’negdo was more fun than any date he’d ever been on. No more worrying about pressing shadchanim to find out what dress size the girl was, how much she weighed, how tall she was, getting a picture, or what her mother and grandmother looked like. He was thrilled to find out he could even decide exactly what look and body type his shidduch would be.

Benjy wanted someone smart, but not too smart, who would be a good housekeeper, and could cook a delicious meal any day of the week, especially on Shabbos. She needed to be outgoing, helpful, sweet, and supportive, not to mention downright gorgeous. He envisioned a wife he could show off walking down the street and would also produce cute kids for his parents to shep nachas, while still staying in great shape after each pregnancy.

Taking a break from his constant mouse-clicking, Benjy began to daydream. He’d never have to get all dressed up, making sure his clothing was freshly dry cleaned, shave regularly, or fake being all gentlemanly ever again. His wife would love everything about him, even the “manly” things that his previous dates had found undesirable or repulsive. She’d fulfill every one of his desires, and thank him every day for choosing her to be his wife as she served him a freshly prepared, steaming hot dinner upon his arrival home each evening.

His future life partner would never demand every moment of his time, and always let him watch the game as well as hang out with his buddies whenever he wanted. She’d never make him do stuff he didn’t enjoy, like go shopping, clean the bathroom, or mow the lawn. Benjy just knew that his wife would make sure the house was spick and span every day, keep the kids quiet and in-line, and pick up his socks whenever he left them lying on the floor wherever he felt like tossing them after a hard day at the office.

More than anything, Benjy looked forward to his wife’s ageless, smooth-skinned, well-toned, beautiful appearance that would always make his heart flutter, no matter how old she became.

Rivky and Benjy had independently read about Dr. Otto von Schnitzelpusskrankengescheitmeier’s shidduchim services in their local Jewish newspaper. It was hard to believe that “Dr. Otto” could really deliver on his promise to provide the absolute perfect shidduch after only nine months of intensive research and cultivation, but his customer references and rabbinical haskamos spoke for themselves. True, he cost a pretty penny, but when Rivky considered that people had already been practically auctioning off the best bochurim for decades, and Benjy made a rough computation of how much he’d already spent on years of dating, both thought this was an investment worth their money. Just thinking about a guarantee to the end of their dating woes made each of them beyond excited.

But, Dr. Otto was no typical shadchan. Some might hesitate to even call him a real matchmaker of any sort. Dr. Otto was, by formal training, a bio-engineer of the highest caliber with multiple doctorates from the most prestigious universities across the world. After several decades of failing to strike it big in the medical industry where government bans on human cloning had stymied his research, Dr. Otto sought to fulfill a different need for his genius intellect and prowess in genetic manipulation. After just a few short years of privately funded experimentation he had solicited from a few fabulously wealthy entrepreneurs with single, aging children, Dr. Otto perfected his art. For the right price, he could manufacture a picture-perfect spouse in his advanced laboratory, the only one of its kind in the entire world.

Collecting, modifying and combining the specified genes took several weeks, while gestation in his patented artificial womb lasted for a few months, with the remaining time utilized to accelerate the growth process to the predetermined age and flash educate the “work in progress” to the customer’s requested intelligence/career level. At the scheduled due date, which was always approximately nine months after an order was placed, the impeccably customized shidduch candidate was decanted, double-checked against the electronic profile order, suitably dressed, then presented to the customer.

On average, it only took about four to five dates with his creation for a marriage proposal to occur. A reputable 99.8% of the ensuing unions were harmonious and without fault, much to Dr. Otto’s delight. The remaining 0.2% that ended in divorce or separation were due to unforeseen imperfections in the product, which was promptly recalled, recycled for parts and replaced within the year. Dr. Otto was known for never leaving any customer unsatisfied. He couldn’t stand for allowing anything less than perfect to leave his laboratory.

Rivky finished her shidduch qualification survey, submitted her results and waved to the secretary as she left the office. Moments later, Benjy concluded re-checking the last item on the list, saved his answers, and grabbed his hat and jacket off the coat rack as he headed out the door.

Nine months flew by. Although Rivky sometimes felt the days crawl ever so slowly, the sheer agony of counting off weeks on the calendar was counterbalanced by the light at the end of the tunnel that she would finally have her perfect chosson.

She soon found herself sitting across from “Shlomo” in a darkened hotel lounge. As she absentmindedly stirred her diet Coke, her towering, built up excitement began to dissipate, like the ice that was melting in her glass.

“I like long walks in the park and the latest Jewish music hits. What about you?” The rakishly handsome made-to-order young man implored.

“Well, I actually like those things too.”

“Perfect!” Shlomo practically clapped his hands together with enthusiasm. “For our next date, we’ll go on a walk in Central Park, where I will regale you with my encyclopedic knowledge of the Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi, followed by a trip to the local Judaica store to preview the latest CD releases.” He leaned forward and made an excited face “It’ll be a hoot!”

Rivky stopped herself before she began her next reply and began to consider just what was going on. After all that time spent checking off those little boxes on the computer screen, all the patient waiting, and after all that money… Rivky had to admit Shlomo was probably the biggest dud she’d ever gone out with. Something just wasn’t right about him, despite being absolutely perfect in every way that she had imagined. True, Shlomo was far better mannered, courteous, and certainly better looking than anyone Rivky had dated in the past, but she was beginning to think that he was nothing more than her list brought to life; a bunch of details given form in the flesh, but just as flat and uninteresting as the paper it was printed on.

As she sat there thinking, Shlomo adjusted his posture to be even more ramrod straight, held his hands clasped in his lap, and continued beaming the absolute goofiest grin in Rivky’s direction. Rivky half-smiled back unenthusiastically, which was her usual given sign for indicating that the date should be over, but Shlomo either didn’t notice, or had no clue what she was trying to communicate.

Nearby, Benjy was struggling with his own date as well.

“So, like, I looove cooking and cleaning. Nothing makes me happier than, like, making sure that my man is toootally comfy and taken care of.”

“That sounds great, Orli,” Benjy stifled a yawn with his hand. Leaning his head backward, Benjy finished the remainder of his drink in one gulp. He siged and roughly set the now-empty glass back on the wooden table with an overly audible clink.

“Oh, and I’ve gotta say that my favorite thing is ‘kicking it back’ with a cold beer and watching the game! Seeing those big, strong men smack into each other, throw the ball, hit a home run, then score a three pointer from downtown is just so interesting!” She flashed her blindingly white, perfectly straight teeth, which matched well with her flawlessly beautiful face.

“Uh… right,” he groaned. The idea of his wife throwing back a beer with the boys during the Jets game didn’t seem like so much fun to Benjy. He began to realize that he didn’t have much to say to “Orli.” She simply chirped back that she loved everything he did and would do anything he ever asked. Granted, she was smoking hot, but he felt like he was talking to a parakeet whenever they exchanged words. He never thought he’d ever choose personality over looks, but Orli’s gorgeous appearance hid a startlingly empty interior. To Benjy, it simply didn’t feel like he was talking to another person. He knew being married to the woman who fulfilled his entire list to the T was going to be great, but he at least wanted another human being to share a home with, not a zombified-robot-thing.

Shlomo was just not taking her hints seriously, and Rivky had no idea what to do. She had glanced at her watch several times, to which Shlomo asked if her watch was broken and offered to buy her a new one. She cleared her throat noisily and Shlomo produced lozenges from a coat pocket, suggesting she take one or two. She even tried her rudest tactic and began filing her nails right there at the table, very clearly ignoring anything further that Shlomo had to say. He definitely noticed she was distracted, but instead of realizing what she was conveying and ask if she wanted him to take her home, he began giving her tips for maintaining healthy cuticles.

Wishing she was somewhere else, someone nearby caught Rivky’s eye. It was that boy who was in Dr. Otto’s office with her nine months ago when she ordered Shlomo’s… creation. She guessed he was also on his first date with his own dream shidduch, and it even looked like it wasn’t quite working out for him, either. She had no clue who he was or what he was like, but their mutual interest in trying out Dr. Otto must have meant something.

Glancing past Orli, Benjy recognized the girl from that fateful day in Dr. Otto’s office. Surprisingly, she seemed to be staring intently in his direction, like she thought he was cute, or something. Meeting her gaze, he raised an eyebrow and stealthily inclined his head toward the exit, giving a subtle expression of invitation. In reply, she raised both eyebrows, smiled faintly, and carefully nodded twice.

“If you’ll please excuse me, I need to use the ladies’ room,” Rivky pushed her chair away from the table and started walking toward the door.

“But Rivky, the restroom is over there,” Shlomo said in his know-it-all voice, raising an arm to point the other way.

“I’m going out to have a smoke,” Benjy declared, abruptly standing up.

“I thought you said you never touched a cigarette?” Orli asked, quite puzzled.

“Yeah, well… um... See you later,” he casually announced over his shoulder, without looking back, while at the same time picking up the pace of his stride.

Benjy exited the lounge moments after Rivky, who was eagerly awaiting his arrival. She smiled up at him and he returned the first genuine grin he had displayed all night. Both released an exasperated sigh, happy to be away from their automaton-like dates.

“I’m Benjy,” he said after a moment of awkward silence.

“Rivky,” she offered, shyly looked down and softly kicked at the carpet. Benjy didn’t pick up the conversation, and after such a horrid night, Rivky was feeling kind of bold. “So, there’s a kosher Chinese restaurant a few blocks away…” She gestured to her right. “I happen to love Chinese food. It’s my absolute favorite…” She looked up and stared into his eyes. “Would you like to go out to dinner?”

“Actually, I hate Chinese food,” Benjy replied bluntly. “But there is a dairy Italian café two blocks over there,” he pointed in the opposite direction.

“I’m lactose-intolerant,” she admitted, somewhat embarrassed to confess such things to a total stranger. Rivky paused, taking a moment to think things over. After tonight’s disaster, she figured she may as well take a leap of faith. “But, I can probably order the fish or something.”

“Sounds good to me. Shall we?” He gestured with a wave, and they started walking down the sidewalk in unison.

Meanwhile, inside the hotel lounge…

“Hi! I’m Shlomo. How are you this fine evening?” Shlomo plunked himself down in Benjy’s empty seat.

Baruch HaShem!” She squealed with glee. “My name is Orli.”


  1. Jughead's Hat - You get extra bonus points for recognizing the good doctor's name!

  2. Amazing story!
    It was really funny, but it also made me think (I'm guessing that's the point) -- so many of us have the "perfect" person in mind as our zivug. But our zivug is NOT objectively perfect! (S)he is perfect for each of us, but that doesn't mean that there won't be any flaws involved.

    I recall Rabbi Rietti giving a dating & marriage shiur that I attended a few years ago. He painted the picture: you have a list. All the qualities you want your spouse to have + all the preferences. You go out on a date -- and that person EXACTLY fits your list. 10/10. Are you happy?
    Most people responded that they wouldn't be...and one girl said out-loud "what's the catch?"

    Supposedly, it's our spouse's imperfections that make him or her perfect...for us. Those imperfections are our nisyonot. (Seminary shiur coming back to me now) :)

  3. Was this story published anywhere? I don't know sounds so familiar!

    Great story with a nice punchline (and an important message).

  4. Sefardi Gal - you definitely got the point. Aside from the impossibility of finding someone who exactly matches your list, odds are you'd find out that if you got absolutely everything you were looking for that something would still seem "off."

    We all need certain things, and others are "wants" of different levels of significance, which can be compromised in various fashions for the sake of uniting with a very special someone who has a quirk or two that we'll learn to live with.

    I will readily admit that ASoG isn't 100% like the girl I described that I was looking for when I wrote my profile, but she certainly embodies or possesses the most essential attributes, etc (and then some). That is what's important - and the rest will be us adapting to living with one another over the course of our long and happy marriage, G-d willing.

    If husbands and wives were exactly alike, then there wouldn't be as much room for growth (or any at all) in developing their connection to one another, learning to place the other's needs and interests before their own - and then you'd basically be marrying an opposite gender version of yourself - and few people seem to like that idea.

    Sun Inside Rain - I've never been published (though I'd like to be), and haven't heard of or read any stories like this before when the idea popped into my head. If there are some coincidental resemblances, then it's entirely a case of "baruch shekivanti" l'havdil.

    I first came up with the general idea of "growing" the perfect shidduch and the very last scene where the two daters flee their lab-born dates, leaving them to discover each other in turn. The first two sentences popped into my head word-for-word, and I simply started writing from there.

  5. I think this is worthy of being published. Now if only I were a publisher....

    Very well done.

  6. Any resemblances to other works might be a result of the author having read Huxley's Brave New World - for example, "decanted" is the exact word Huxley uses.

    Am I right?

  7. FrumJewInYU - you read Brave New World recently? Despite having read the book several times for different classes over my academic career, any references must have been subconcious and not intentional. Granted that one term may match up, but the general idea of cloning/engineering people is pretty commonly found in sci-fi these days. If anything, watching/reading too much about the Clone Wars may have been a more direct influence.

  8. You might have read this story by frum'n'flipping called Made to Measure:, it has a similar premise. It's very nice how the two of you took the concept in your own directions.

  9. Not recently, but it's one of my favorites.

  10. aey, Thank you! That's what I meant. I knew the concept sounded familiar but I couldn't remember where I'd read it.

    In any case, I'll say again: Great piece.

  11. Not recently, but it's one of my favorites.

  12. my favorite piece of sci-fi yet. well done

    part of the fun of dating is being different and hasshing out your differences. In Group Dynamics its called Storming, where there are clashes but eventually you turn out ok or separate

  13. One typo jumped out at me: "The idea of his wife throwing back a beer with the boys during the Jets game didn’t seem like so much fun to Shlomo." Shlomo should be Benjy in this sentence.

    But I loved the story too!

    And mazel tov -- don't think I said that yet.

  14. miriamp - good catch! I have corrected the error. Thanks for the mazal tov wishes and I'm glad you enjoyed the story!


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