Hannah, My Love Coach and the Riemann Conjecture

I was working in the mathematics research library at the University of Washington trying to prove the Riemann conjecture when a poke in the back from what felt like the pointy end of a freshly sharpened pencil made me jump out of my seat. I let out a high pitched girlish scream.
“Wow, you are jumpy,” a woman’s voice behind me said. “Sorry about that, I just had a manicure. I had a feeling you could use my help.”
For a moment I thought she was a mathematician offering to help with my calculations. I realized my error when I turned to find a beautiful woman in her late 30’s dressed in skin tight jeans and a tank top that stopped a few inches shy of her belly button. Not that a woman mathematician can’t be beautiful or walk around with a bare midriff, but the empirical probability is low.
Her long, lovely brunette hair cascading down about her D-cupped breasts looked freshly washed and professionally cut with no discernible split ends. It shone with an almost ethereal radiance and so did she. Perhaps I wax too rhapsodic, but let it stand. Her beauty was diminished by an overly high forehead and a slight asymmetry of her nose, but that hair, those eyes, that smile — witchcraft!
“ I’m Hannah,” she said, handing me her business card. “Hannah Rabinowitz, Love Coach at your service.” She spoke with a nasal twang in a fading Brooklyn accent. “By the way,” she said, “does my face look red? I just had a laser peel and I think they turned it up too high.”
“I don’t need a love coach.I’m married,” I said.
“I also do life coaching. Do you mind if I sit with you?” Without waiting for an answer, she pulled up a chair and sat uncomfortably close to me. Her voice was very loud. Some people looked up from their books. I backed away to put some distance between me and that voice,  but there was no escaping it. As I moved away, she moved in closer –  so close that I could feel the heat emanating from her body and smell the slightest hint of, was it perfume, or just her?
“I don’t need a life coach either,” I said.
“Then how about a caterer? From bar or bat mitzvah’s  to intimate dinners for two —  no event is too big or too small. I can, of course, also provide the woman for the intimate dinners,” she said with a wink.
“Oh, are you in THAT business too?”
“Yes, matchmaking comes with the love coach package. Wait, did you think I’m some kind of …? Oh my God.” She punched me in the chest.
“Ouch!” I said.
“Oh don’t be a sissy. I don’t think I want to take you on as a client if you think such dirty thoughts about me.”
“That’s fine with me,” I said. “What are you doing in a math research library? Why don’t you try a bar or coffeeshop?”
“Nerds are more likely to need my services and where can you find more nerds than in a math library?”
“Thanks a lot,” I said.
“Don’t be offended. Nerds are sexy now. Math is sexy.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Ya, well that’s why you need me.”
“I told you I don’t need a love coach,” I said.
“Maybe not now, but I foresee a future in which you will ,” she said.
“You’re love coach, a life coach, a caterer AND a psychic too?” I said. “I’m sorry but I have to get back to work now.”
“Okay, okay,” she said, “but keep my card handy.”
“I will not be needing your services and I’m not going to call you,” I said.
“Okay, talk to you later,” she said. She walked away and suddenly turned to catch me staring at her. She looked at me intently and mouthed the words:“Call me.” Then she held out her arms towards me and wriggled her fingers as if to hypnotize me into obeying her command.
I mouthed the words: “No way!” and clenching my fists, I crossed my arms before me as if to ward off her evil spells. She smiled and walked to a carrel occupied by a fat pimply grad student in sweat pants. She tapped him on the back and he jumped out of his seat knocking his books to the floor. Hannah Rabinowitz laughed and handed him her card. He looked scared.I could have been a contender, studying for a PhD in mathematics at the University of Washington, but I washed out and now I’m a bum. Sure I have a high paying job with a data analytics firm trying to create mathematical models of consumer buying behavior, but in my eyes I’m still a bum without a PhD.
But I still like to keep my hand in math, real math. Evenings and weekends I hang out in the mathematics research library trying to prove the Riemann conjecture. There’s a million dollar prize from the Clay Institute for anyone who comes up with a proof. But more important than the money is the mathematical fame and glory. If I prove the Riemann conjecture I will certainly have done enough to get a PhD and then I can go back to academia. I guess I’m like Einstein. I long to escape from the concerns of the merely personal into the world of objective perception and thought, into the world of “der reinen Vernunft”, the world of pure reason.

I tried to get back to work, but I could not get Hannah Rabinowitz and her ominous prediction out of my mind. After a couple of hours I gave up. I wasn’t getting anywhere. I packed up and headed for home. Hannah was long gone. As I was leaving I felt a tap on my shoulder. I thought it was Hannah.
“Hi there!” a voice behind me said, “My name’s Mary. What’s yours?”
“Did Hannah send you?” I asked, looking around the library.
“Never mind. My name’s Victor,” I said.
“What’s your last name Victor?”
“Badilla,” I said.
“Nice to meet you Victor Badilla,” she said, handing  me a manilla envelope. “Consider yourself served.” I opened the envelope and pulled out divorce papers.

12 thoughts on “Hannah, My Love Coach and the Riemann Conjecture

  1. vanessafowler says:

    I’m going to leave comments as I read, so hopefully this doesn’t feel disjointed! Each number corresponds to the sentences in order.
    1: long sentence but I like the sharp pointy pencil description.
    2: maybe instead of saying she let out a scream, just write in the actual scream? and then put in the sensation description? not sure.
    3: the manicure comment feels random – I wouldn’t give that as an explanation for making someone jump/scream.
    4: “for a moment” doesn’t make sense/unnecessary
    5: how does her outfit have anything to do with showing that she is not a mathematician? I think this stereotyping may rub people the wrong way.
    6: I think that your explanation comes too late, but I like it.
    7: no discernible split ends? really?
    8-11: I don’t know why, but this description feels cliche – I wish you made it more fun and I’m expecting out of the box, witty comedy. I think ellen might say this falls under the “instal-love” category which should be avoided.
    12-17: This could be super cute, but if feels random – and the skin peel comment isn’t doing anything for me.
    18: I like this sentence. (space after the period)
    19-23: I like the awkwardness you create here.
    24: I wish you had given more of this context of other people being there earlier on. I’m having a hard time visualizing the setting. I though this was in a lab, now I’m thinking science library?
    25-28: the awkwardness is cool. I’m waiting to see where it is going.

    I got lost a him being a “bum” – that part doesn’t make sense to me. Then, the explanation of the character’s goal is helpful, but I wish I had know that earlier. Who is this person? a touch more context at the onset, even if just one sentence on him and one on setting, would really help.

    I like seeing Hannah move on to the next person – that was kind of a funny picture.

    The Mary part is too soon – I’m still processing Hannah.

    I like the contrast between Hannah and Victor. I think it could be really fun.

  2. gainford says:

    Overall I like it. It’s witty. It doesn’t flow very well though, it’s a little awkward to read, just not as smooth as it should be. Some of the descriptions are a little too elaborate, but I think you know that. Following up an over-long and flowery description with “Perhaps I wax too rhapsodic, but let it stand.” was perhaps my favourite part.
    It’s a good idea and can definitely be funny, just needs editing to smooth it off.

  3. Douglas Hazelrigg says:

    Okay. For me it was easy to follow and I had a definite picture of Hannah, which is important. I loved the “witchcraft!” part, as well as the way the scene concluded with a cliffhanger of sorts.

    Some crits:

    Is this the school in Seattle or St. Louis? Both are noted for their math departments. I assume it’s Seattle —

    I dig Hannah’s character… I have known a couple “life coaches” and your description is spot on — they tend to be spotlight-grabbers, charismatic, and somewhat annoying. 🙂

    I would drop the word “mathematical” before “fame and glory” — solving any of the Millenium problems would bring instant and wide fame, not just within mathematics. BTW, isn’t it more commonly — and formally — referred to as the “Riemann Hypothesis?”

    Not sure the word “ominous” works — maybe “odd” or “disconcerting”

    I like how Victor follows Hannah when she walks away, but I think he probably would have watched her, even if via occasional glances, until she had completely disappeared. Just a thought.

    I thought the dialogue with the writ server needs some improvement.

    You’ve definitely set the scene — good job 🙂

  4. Nicole L Ochoa says:

    I agree with the others, smooth it out a bit. For me the “D-cup” was a little awkward maybe just say large. I liked how the lady serving the papers tied in before he left the library.

  5. David says:

    I like the humor in this piece and I think it’s the basis for a really fun story. I like that the protagonist has a clear objective. I also like how Hannah is a Jack (or Jane) of all trades and keeps adding to her list of skills while also playing hard-to-get. This might sound dumb, but I think the name Hannah doesn’t really fit the character to me. No offense to people named Hannah, but the name is sort of plain and doesn’t sound like a perfect fit for a zany person like her. But feel free to disagree. However, I love her last name, so maybe some sort of contrast between the two was intentional.

    I agree with some of the other people who said that the scene at the end is a little bit too abrupt. I was still focused on the first scene when that happened. It might make more sense if you moved the second scene to a later day and made the setting Victor’s workplace instead of the library, because it seems like that would be an easier place for Mary to find him, plus, it would give a new environment and allow readers to breathe a little bit following the first scene.

    While I think most of the humor worked, there were a few parts that seemed outlandish, as if you were consciously trying to force comedy into the story. I have a habit of doing that too, and it can sometimes be hard to take out a joke, especially if it’s one you’re attached to. For example, the line, “I mouthed the words: ‘No way!’ and clenching my fists, I crossed my arms before me. . .” when Hannah is walking away doesn’t seem like an entirely realistic action, especially for a grown man. It’s the kind of humor that feels forced.

    But I think this is a really awesome start for a novel and I was definitely engaged.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Humour is hard to write, and your first few sentences of this are really funny. I like the voice, and I like the idea – I think it has great potential. Having said that, the description of Hannah really jarred. It didn’t sound male at all – it sounded like a female writer’s idea of what a man would think. Would a man really notice the quality of hair down to the details of split ends? I think not. This description turns Hannah in to a caricature, which is a pity because she does not need to be. I struggled to understand that she had just walked up to a total stranger in the library – I think you need to make this clearer when he turns around and sees who she is – instead of focusing on what she looks like, I think you should focus on his confusion that a good looking woman in inappropriate clothing for a library has randomly poked him in the back.

    I really do like the mathematics nerd concept though, and him being served was a nice twist and really worked. There is good material here – be careful not to over-write and let the comedy evolve organically rather than trying to milk every sentence for comedy.

    Agree with the comment above that Hannah is the wrong name for her. She sounds more like a Dolly or a Cindy (caricature?) or maybe even something suprising like Doris or Ethel that would give you some fodder for humour, but Hannah is just too girl-next-door.

  7. gongli2000 says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    The comment that a man wouldn’t notice the details of a woman’s hair reminds me of Jason Alexander’s complaint about a script written by Larry David.

    ”No human being would ever react the way George reacted.,” Alexander said.

    ‘What do you mean?’ David said. ‘This happened to me and that’s how I reacted.”

  8. Douglas Hazelrigg says:

    As a red-blooded male, I for one can attest that I do notice details about a woman’s hair. However, the term “split-ends” feels dated — I don’t know that I’ve heard anyone use that since those TV ads back in the 70’s.

    I didn’t mention it, but I too had a bit of an issue with some stranger coming up to a guy in the library. Maybe Victor works on proofs at a coffee shop?

  9. Anonymous says:

    “That’s fine with me,” I said. “What are you doing in a math research library? Why don’t you try a bar or coffeeshop?”
    “Nerds are more likely to need my services and where can you find more nerds than in a math library?”

  10. Gentle Reader says:

    What saved this piece was the ending. Generally speaking, engineers and mathematicians tend to be more succinct, just like good writing. Some of the descriptions go overboard. Example:

    “Her long, lovely brunette hair cascading down about her D-cupped breasts looked freshly washed and professionally cut with no discernible split ends. It shone with an almost ethereal radiance and so did she. Perhaps I wax too rhapsodic, but let it stand. Her beauty was diminished by an overly high forehead and a slight asymmetry of her nose, but that hair, those eyes, that smile — witchcraft!”

    If hair is cascading down about her D-cupped breasts, you don’t also have to say it is long. You’re overwriting here. She’s a hottie. We get it, and you can convey it with fewer words. When you tell us the hair is lovely, it’s safe for the reader to assume it’s not full of unsightly split ends.

    You have a very nice twist at the end with the divorce papers, but with all of the schmaltz, I hope readers will get to it. I’d make another pass through this writing and look for passages that seem overdone.

    Good luck, and keep writing!

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