Me and My Shadow
A friend, one of those tanned venture capitalists who today are running out of juicy dripping deals, suggest I write this all out. Tony works in Silicon Valley and told me my experiences with the Shadow App would make interesting reading. He wouldn’t judge himself about the stresses I’ve been under and whether what happened to me really happened to me or my pixellated self or even if it happened at all. ‘Get it down,’ he said, ‘Do it quick, a vomit draft and then burn the fuck out of it!’
Tony is the sort of guy who arrives at business meetings with a surfboard strapped to the top of his family estate: a wet suit under his pants and stripy shirt. A surfer – really impressive in the swell off Big Sur, that rocky, risky stretch of Atlantic coast, and a cyber surfer securing funds for projects which promises new equations to speed up computer processes. The Shadow App springs from his experience, I hesitate to use the word visionary, but his surfboard rides the wave at the intersection of the real and virtual world.
I’d lost track of Tony over the years. He was bringing up his daughters in California while I was living with Sam in London. He’d had some bad spells of bi-polarity and a Jesus complex. Not unusual in the Californian sun famous for fermenting new age remedies and herbal concoctions, a lot of yoga and goat yoghurt and wanting in those stacked up desert spaces make the people hungry for another prophet. Californians are famous for their toxic prophets—the ones that demand murder or self-sacrifice. Not that Tony had gone over to the dark side but people did gravitate towards him and his unusual ideas on freedom, incest and the pleasures of morphine always made him a controversial dinner guest whose favourite topic was the necessity of mental illness in human evolution.
I thought of Tony as a prophet. Physically he was prepossessing, his incredible Neanderthal chunkiness and thighs shaped into pistons from years of windsurfing made me wonder if he wasn’t some evolutionary throwback, or rather descended from a different troglodytic dynasty, a creature who could command both air and water for his pleasure crowned with this great maths brain, ticking with algorithms and paradoxes. With a physique like his, extraordinary and a little grotesque, it was no wonder that some of his investors were confirmed bachelors.
His wife Jane was excited by ideas too and with her crazy, frizzy hair and questioning glance, hands always busy and tunnelling, clenching and unclenching, busy as hamsters ransacking their bedding, you had a sense of their restless inner lives, searching and defining and inventing. They turned their dual beams upon you, often over Tony’s shoulder of lamb a thing of tender beauty pulverized by his pressure cooker, and it was intoxicating stuff. I was always playing catch-up to their ideas. Often I didn’t understand what they were on about as they passed the salad bowl round the big wooden table with the bottle of grappa but they drew things out in me that I never knew were there
That last supper sticks in the mind because of a moment of apprehension, maybe I looked too long at Jane and imagined waking up beside her or maybe I saw Tony in a state of high excitability as his great limbs shook with laughter and I rose to the challenge of making those huge crunching jaws open wider but I did what I do best—I freewheeled with absolutely no idea of what I was about to say. I mentioned a new app I would like to see on the market. Tony urged me to elaborate.
‘We want to be held and cuddled through the decision-making process, to feel we have our own personalized pocket guru who lights up and knows our own minds better than we do. Can you imagine someone who assesses risk for us, decides on our daily lives to a backdrop of Tibetan bells or shifting shingle... a quasi- mystical relationship...’ The grappa was slipping down nicely.
‘With all our information and coordinates we’re more indecisive than ever. Paralysed by too much choice. We need that informed nudge off the high diving board, the backing to shake up our sad lives and do something really extraordinary.’
‘And presumably it wouldn’t just be a licence for debauchery,’ Tony chuckled and munched on a huge mouthful of endives, ‘it would influence business decisions. Could give you the edge on your competitors… Optimise risk reward trade off.’
That phrase has come back to haunt me: optimize risk reward trade off
‘You need to do something serious,’ he said.
I carried the brightness of those dinner parties around for quite a while, passed off some of Tony’s ideas as my own, misunderstood and mangled into a new shape, and when they moved to California I bumped into Sam. Marrying her was a reaction and partial remedy to the double loss of Tony and Jane. I had run out of things to do, my brilliance could no longer be called precocious and without a guru to direct my intelligence I fell back on thrillers and part time work. I read books on suicide, memoirs of artists’ models and drank red wine in my water glass. The world appeared muffled, without brilliance. The dust sheets were back on draped over furniture and trees and Sam... She looked good on paper, job in West End gallery, ex-dancer and lover of Bryan Ferry, backing singer for The Debonairs but I started to dread her talking. I dreaded our evenings in watching Netflix serials, feeling her leg squirm against mine and her smiling anecdotes about her tiny new niece and the fact that she was already such a confirmed personage.
I got the call on Wednesday. Sam rang me from the Behringer Gallery. ‘Hi hon, I’ve been trying to reach you. It’s Tony. He’s been sectioned in the Wharfdale. Apparently he’s had an episode. Been asking for you. Might still make visiting hours. Can you get the fish pie out of the freezer?’