Agony in the Lab

Agony in the Lab

“How big a capacitor do we need?”

“That’s a good question Henry,” Amanda flips through the manual and re-reads the schematic. “One micro-Farad.” Getting very close she asks, “Want me to get one?”

I mentally cringe. No, I want you to take a long shower. Amanda Cope was the rarest of the rare: a female physics major. Do you know how hard it is to find a woman, let alone a semi-attractive one, who laughs at mathematician jokes? She would have been a dream come true if it weren’t for her odor. She did not stink, exactly, but her body odor was offensive in that it was unidentifiable. Some days it seemed like stale perfume, while on others, like today, it had more of an oniony stench. The other physics majors and I treated her like one of the guys, ‘embracing’ her as a fellow geek, but we did try to keep her an arm’s length away.

I pick a capacitor out of the pile of components on the tabletop. “Here’s one.” As I snap it into the powerboard, I glance out the window. Why couldn’t I have been an English Major or something? I could be outside on this sunny, spring day reading poetry to coeds instead of being stuck in a lab holding my breath.

“Hey, what are you doing here?”

Puzzled by her question, I raise an eyebrow at Amanda before realizing she was not talking to me.

“I’m looking for Doctor Miller,” Rob answers. Rob Dauben has been a physics major for so long he is pseudo-faculty. All he needs is an office.

While Rob and I exchange nodded greetings, Amanda looks around the empty lab and answers, “He’s not here.”

“Really? Thanks for telling me, I would never have figured that out myself.”

Amanda smiles and squirms on her stool. I raise an eyebrow to myself.

“So, what are you two doing?”

“Catching up on an Electronics lab. We’re building a 555 Timer Tester.”

I look up at Rob, “Lots of fun.”

Rob chuckles, “I think I remember building those.”

For several heartbeats, there is only silence. Amanda, sitting to my left, hands me a component. Rob, standing on my right, watches us. Me, sitting in the middle with growing dread.

Finally, Rob breaks the silence, “Have you seen the flyers for the Chemical Society’s Semi-Formal?”

“Yeah,” Amanda answers as her eyes light up. “You going?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’d go,” Amanda says before glancing at the floor, “if somebody asked me.”

After a pause Rob states, “I’d go if I had someone to ask.”

To which Amanda suggests, “It couldn’t hurt just to ask someone, see what they say.”

“Well, I’d hate to ask someone, unless I knew they would say yes.”

I don’t know how long they went back and forth like that, Rob trying to ask her out without actually asking her out, and Amanda saying ‘Yes’ without actually saying ‘Yes.’ I wondered how hard-up Rob was to be asking Amanda out. After I gave up trying to figure that out, it became amusing, making me feel like an anthropologist studying the courtship behavior of geeks. But then I realized that I was sitting between them. I started telepathically shouting at them, “Ask her out already,” and “Say ‘yes’ already.” When that didn’t work, I forced myself to just zone out. I don’t know for how long I was away, but when I finally came back to the real world, our tester was working, Rob was gone, Amanda was smiling, and I had a bit of a headache.

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