‘Yes?’ he asks irritably. ‘I’m kinda busy here.’
A less worldly-wise manager might imagine the rate manipulator was studying the best deals available for his clients, riding the actuary waves, rather than surfing the internet for dubious content. As it turns out he’s on that absurd Second Life virtual world game again.
I’ve dreamed often enough about a second life, or at least a second go at life, but this avatar-manipulating fantasy is a step too far for anyone with a modicum of dignity. M, like every other loser on-line, has created a complete illusion of a character to replace the reality. But then a three-dimensional bloater waddling around the adults- only singles section offering tertiary-lender loans isn’t exactly going to pull the totty. In the final analysis, we’re all trying to be someone we’re not.
‘Any news on the survey for Mr and Mrs Hancock?’ I ask, eyes drawn towards the screen that M hasn’t bothered to minimise.
‘Waiting for employers references.’ Fobs off M casually, before tapping in a response to the open speech bubble he has rising from the impossibly handsome cartoon character. A glossy figure masquerading as a successful realtor, rather than a sweaty financial advisor with a kerb weight higher than his Linden dollars bank balance.
‘There’s some hot women on here today.’ Drools M. I’m tempted to tell him the lithesome digital blonde he’s exchanging borderline sex-text with, is probably a fifty-something American pervert sitting in his vest, somewhere in Illinois. But then I guess we’re all searching for a bit of affection, a bit of comfort.
‘How come you’ve chosen to be a realtor?’ I ask, drawn-in despite myself. Despite the fact I should be pressing him to do some work. I blame the confused management structure that has financial consultants in your office but not directly answerable to you.
‘They’re more respected in the States.’ Replies M with an apologetic grin. ‘Have to pass exams.’ I can’t argue with that truism so instead I watch fascinated and repulsed in equal measure, as M starts to “dance” with the far-off temptress while whispering increasingly risqué suggestions in her ear. Somewhere in Chicago a weirdo with insomnia has something stirring in his underpants.
‘Ask him,’ I begin. ‘I mean her. If she fancies some quantitative easing.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ gripes M a bubble of sweat running unpleasantly down his brow. ‘I’m on a roll here.’
Bacon roll is all he’ll be having, I think moodily, as I stomp out of the room and check the office diary.
Where did it all go wrong? I wonder as I traverse town to my valuation, an image of myself, almost as line-free as M’s alter ego swims into my brain. A youthful man in a suit, brick-like mobile phone in brief case, Dire Straits pounding from the in-car cassette, built-in graphic equaliser boosting the base, accentuating the positive. Ghia model Ford, the reward for early success in the industry.
Then as the traffic grinds to a halt and I fuss at the dashboard clock, I’m swept back further - back to the little boy on the stairs. The image flickers like a bad VHS picture, grainy sound-on-vision bars corrupting the frame. Back to a time before DVD and Blu-ray, when you could never quite freeze the bit you wanted – if it wasn’t for the porn industry we’d probably all still be using Betamax – back to a scene I’d love to re-run. Wish I could edit. Add the right speech. Manipulate the outcome.
My father turns and utters something more banal than M’s imaginary gigolo. Then picks up his suitcase and leaves.
‘I’m not selling yet, before you get all excited.’ Parries the woman even before I’m over the threshold. ‘I just want a value for the lawyers. That bastard isn’t getting away with this lightly.’
In the real world, nothing changes.