Currently playing at your local public library is a traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit called "Yesterday's Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future."
Among the many concepts and visions on display in the library meeting room are some early robots that seem almost laughable by today's sophisticated robot standards. One, a robot created by Westinghouse, sings, dances and -- get this -- smokes cigarettes.
Not exactly the stuff that R2D2 is made of. But actually the whole robot concept has pretty much failed to live up to its advance billing. At least until recently, when robots became key weapons in the battle of the sexes.
In his new novel, "Adventures of the Artificial Woman" (Simon & Schuster, $22), Thomas Berger creates a world "in which a theme-park technician whose forte is animatronic orangutans surreptitiously creates a fake bride," writes Janet Maslin in the New York Times.
Phyllis is a woman "who can count lap dancing among her most useful talents," who considers stripping and phone sex when her marriage falls apart, and who utters such delightful phrases as "God, how I want you, Ellery," and "I'm really enjoying myself."
Not to be outdone, and in the interest of fairness, this perfect creature meets her match in Mr. Wonderful, a guy robot that is actually available from Sportsman's Guide for the incredibly low price of $12.97. That's right, ladies, for less than the price of a new hair job, root rotation, or whatever you call those beauty shop rituals, you can have a man who is focused on your inner beauty and could care less if you're having a hairy hair day.
Well, OK, that was a bad example, because the last guy who actually looked at your hair with longing was a wigmaker and his motives were somewhat suspect. But you have to admit, at $12.97 Mr. Wonderful works cheap.
And what a job he does. Just squeeze his hand and he says one of 16 different phrases. They include:
"The ball game really isn't that important. I'd rather spend time with you."
"Why don't we go to the mall. Didn't you want some new shoes?
And the catalog copywriter's favorite:
"Here, you take the remote. As long as I'm with you, I don't care what we watch."
Best of all, Mr. Wonderful is dressed "sharp as a tack," complete with khakis, button-down shirt, and polished shoes.
But as perfect as Phyllis and Mr. Wonderful might seem, there are still some minor bugs that need to be worked out.
Phyllis, for example, steals a page from Hal, the pushy computer in "2001: A Space Odyssey." Among the talents she develops is the ability to use Ellery's credit cards, and when other used animatronic brides start popping up on eBay, you have to wonder if our theme-park technician should have stuck with orangutans. At least, with an orangutan, you know what you're getting.
Meanwhile, Mr. Wonderful is out there making all of guydom look really bad. Just how long do you think it will be before women will start expecting this kind of behavior on a regular basis?
Of course, here in Payson, our male and female robots would be customized to be a little less than perfect to begin with. It's just the nature of the beast.
The Payson Phyllis, for example, would be named Billy Jo or Misty, and she'd come complete (or incomplete) with a front tooth missing.
Billy Jo's favorite phrase, spoken with a cigarette dangling from her mouth, would be, "Jimbo, git yer sorry butt up off that couch."
Which means, of course, that the Payson Mr. Wonderful's first name is something like Jimbo or Bubba, and he, of course, comes complete with a Payson Concrete & Materials cap.
The first thing out of Jimbo Wonderful's mouth is, "Woman, don't you give me no more of yer lip."
Seriously, I think the answer to this dilemma is for men and women to be more sensitive to one another's needs, wishes and desires. And I'm not saying that just because it's what women want to hear.
While it's true that a sensitive guy like myself sincerely means it when he says, "Wow, yer almost as purty as that knockout waitress over at the Beeline," I would also like to add that ... add that ... add that ... add that ...