The Short Happy Life of Henry Fenstermacher by R F Abercrombie

A rich app developer seeks a companion robot to help improve his lifestyle, but at what cost? By R F Abercrombie.

Henry Fenstermacher, creator of the best-selling garage door app ("Is your big door open?"), ventured cautiously into the tiny showroom of Custom Robotics. Though Henry spent whole days writing computer code for electronic devices, he found being surrounded by a dozen life-like companion robots disconcerting. Their features appeared so realistic, he found himself compelled to reach out and touch one.

"I see you've met Andrew." The salesman strode from the rear of the store. "He's our latest model and one of our most popular."

"Yeah, I know," Henry said. "I read the brochure online."

The men shook hands and introduced themselves.

"What did you have in mind?" the salesman asked.

"Well, you know," Henry began, "I have these certain tendencies and, uh, proclivities."

"Not sexual proclivities, I assume."

Henry blanched. "Oh, no, no, nothing like that."

"Because that's a different sort of business than ours," the salesman explained.

"I understand, absolutely. I read the brochure. Online."

The salesman nodded. "If you're having personal challenges that could be mitigated by a more controlled environment, Andrew may be of some help. He's become a top choice of the leading rehabilitation clinics."

"Yeah, I know," Henry said. "I read the reviews."

"Then you know individuals that retain Andrew for more than a year have a 95 percent recovery rate."

"You see, I could use that," Henry replied. "I have these... problems."

"Such as?"

"I'm always late for things," he moaned. "I forget appointments. I set deadlines and never meet them."

"Andrew could assist you with that. Let me demonstrate." The salesman grasped the robot's bicep firmly. Andrew shivered, gazed first at the salesman and then at Henry.

"Andrew, this is Henry, a prospective owner. He would like help being more punctual."

"Certainly," Andrew said. "When is your next appointment, Henry?"

"I've got a lunch date at noon at Chez Henri. If I miss it, I'll blow a deal worth millions."

"To be five minutes early to your appointment at Chez Henri, you must leave here in fourteen minutes."

Henry smiled. "Now that's exactly what I need."

"How often would you like to be reminded?" Andrew asked.

"Uh, I don't know. What would you recommend?"

"I would recommend three reminders between now and departure time."

"That suits me fine," Henry said. "I feel better already."

"I assume there are other issues?" the salesman said.

"Yeah, right. I don't eat well. Or, I mean, maybe I eat too well. But, anyway, I need help with my diet. And I need exercise. I sit in front of a computer twenty hours a day."

"Andrew, could you help Henry with diet and exercise?"

"Certainly. How tall are you, Henry, and how much do you weigh?"

"I'm five-ten and 180 pounds."

"I'd recommend 1800 calories a day and a maintenance weight of 168 pounds."

"Wow, really? That doesn't sound like much."

"The average American male consumes 2600 calories a day and is twenty-three pounds overweight."

"No kidding? What should I do?"

"If you wish to arrive at Chez Henri five minutes early to your appointment, you should leave here in ten minutes."

"Huh? Oh, right, I almost forgot. Anyway, what do I do about the diet and weight thing?"

"With your guidance, I can create a meal plan that includes most of your favorite foods and an exercise plan that fits your lifestyle."

"That would be great." Henry turned to the salesman. "I've got to have one of these. What's it gonna cost me?"

"The payments are quite reasonable. However, there is a substantial restocking fee." The salesman hooked a thumb over his shoulder to a large sign behind the sales counter.

"Fifty thousand dollars? A little steep, isn't it?"

The salesman nodded. "The restocking fee is charged only if you return the unit within one year. We find that owners who keep their unit more than a year are more successful in their recovery."

"Fair enough, I guess. What else can Andrew do for me?"

"That depends on whatever other personal challenges you face."

"What about budgeting? I spend money like water. I see something I like, I buy it. My place is overflowing with stuff I don't even know what it is. I've gotta stop or I'm gonna have to move."

Andrew spoke up. "With the proper information regarding your finances, I can prepare a budget that covers your household and personal expenses, reserves funds for savings and investments, and leaves you with ample, yet prudent, amount of discretionary funds. I will also provide timely reminders of payments due, tax deadlines and potential overdrafts."

"I hate overdraft fees," Henry said. "So what are the payments for Andrew? How much is this going to set me back?"

"We can go over the contract in detail momentarily," the salesman said. "However, I must once again mention the restocking fee."

"Yeah, well, fifty thou. That does seem exorbitant."

"As you can imagine, reprogramming a companion robot is both expensive and time-intensive," the salesman explained. "We can't have others inadvertently obtaining your personal information, can we?"

"Oh, no, absolutely not." Henry thought a moment. "There is another issue but I don't know exactly how to explain it."

"Please, give it a shot. Whatever it is, I'm sure we've dealt with it."

Henry inched closer to the salesman. "Since I made, like, a bazillion dollars with my garage door app, women cling to me like free ions to a polyester rug. I have a hard time knowing if they're sincere in their desire to know me or if their only after my money. Not that I can't charm the Guccis off the gold diggers when I want to but a guy can't be too careful about these things."

"Indeed," the salesman replied. "What do you think, Andrew?"

"I can prepare a list of unobtrusive questions you can ask your dates at opportune moments to more accurately judge their true intentions," the robot began. "I also can provide you with pointers on body language so you can more easily determine that you are receiving truthful answers."

"See, I can really use a guy like this." Henry grasped the salesman by the elbow and led him a few steps away from Andrew. "Whatever he costs, I'll pay it. He's worth every penny. Just give me the bottom line."

The salesman leaned closer to Henry. "It is not your willingness to pay that ultimately concerns us, Henry. It's your desire to stay the course. Considering the time and expense we go through to personally customize your companion robot to your specific needs, we would be discomfited if you felt you had to return your unit after only a few days or weeks or months. Even if we do charge you a substantial -"

"- restocking fee. More like extortion, you know? Still, as tuned out as I am most of the time, I know I need something like Andrew in my life and, like, soon."

"If I may interrupt," the robot called to them, "if you wish to arrive five minutes early to your appointment at Chez Henri, you should leave here in five minutes."

"Thank you for the timely reminder, Andrew," Henry said over his shoulder. "What do you say we sign that contract now? I have an important meeting to get to."

"As you wish," the salesman said. "If you'll take a seat at the conference table, I'll go over the contract with you in just a moment."

He waited until Henry was seated, then approached the robot and firmly grasped his bicep.

"One born every minute," Andrew observed, his eyelids fluttering.

"One wiser every year," the salesman replied in agreement.


  1. excellent story, with more than a hint of relevance/truth to it.

    michael mccarthy

  2. Just shows that even with all the technology, apps, changes in what we buy, salesmanship is still the same old game. ;-)

  3. An interesting story and well written too, it kept my interest all the way through. I do have a premonition Henry's life may turn into hell after a while with Andrew managing it. No wonder the restocking price is that high.You could write a sequel about Henry being sick of perfect and helpful Andrew in less than one year.It would be an interesting read too.

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. It's great to see so much enthusiasm and support for the short story!

  5. Theis was a great short story. It had it all plus a great punch line.