I first encountered Peter a couple of years ago. He’d left a comment on my blog. I replied and we quickly became good buddies. Our lives were quite different – me with a wife and kids and domestic responsibilities and job that wasn’t much fun, and he leading a rather more exotic lifestyle. Peter lived on Kaua’i, a distant part of the Hawaiian Islands. We got on like brothers, and no matter how mundane my life seemed, he always had an encouraging word, and when things got rough – when work started to crush the life out of me he managed to help me keep a sense of proportion – the bigger view. I sensed a vague sense of envy on his part – although I could never see why – he lead a life in fantastic corner of the planet, and he had no shortage of company – he was always telling me about the women in his life. There was a constant stream, often more than one at a time and I often wondered how he managed to avoid the issues of them meeting. Apparently this had never happened. Peter had a gift for juggling, no doubt about it.
My job continued to take a number of unpleasant twists and turns, and life at home began to mirror my work day. I never climbed into a bottle, or did drugs, because I figured they’d only make the bad situation worse. I did climb into my head and in the quiet dark spent a great deal of time silently screaming – or so I ‘liked’ to call it. In reality it was more about churning my manager’s most recent put down over and over. Replaying the scenario again, maybe trying to work out the best way forward, maybe because the desperation had begun to pull my heart out of my chest.
Peter’s email became an absolute lifesaver. He’d remind me of the good stuff in my life – my wife and kids, our home, our folks, the weekend, the garden, a barbecue at the beach – the simple good stuff that some how Peter managed to make sound so valuable. And it is, of course, but when your day goes through the mincer it’s hard to remember this stuff. More than once I’d turn from his email with my eyes burning with tears. It’s not often that a guy will admit to that.
Gradually the clouds of my life began to turn brighter – my manager was promoted to a new division and her replacement was cast from a different mould. As light began to enter I realised I’d never found out what Peter did for a living. Peter and I had the kind of relationship where we’d shared everything, but I was a bit surprised I didn’t exactly know what he did. It’s not like it was a secret, I guess I was so concerned with my own issues I’d never asked and – well, it just never came up. I imagined he was a programmer or something. He knew his way around tech having helped solve some network issues I’d been having. He was clearly well paid because his lifestyle would’ve demanded a reasonable pay packet if nothing else, and his hours appeared to be fairly flexible – I didn’t think too much about that aspect because we were in a different time zones made everything just a notch more confusing.
His email in response to my question rocked me back in my chair with a laugh. Peter was an entertainer. So much for my visions of him being a programmer guru. I suddenly had this vision of him being this tall, tanned dude in a Hawaiian shirt, Magnum moustache and a woman on each arm. He thought that was hilarious. But he didn’t deny it – I think he liked the image, and said he’d use that as part of his act. Karaoke champ? This time his laughter bubbled up of the email. No, he said, he was a storyteller – tusitala. I immediately was relieved – I finally knew what he did, and was further intrigued – as a writer what had he written? Amazon turned up nothing under his name – Vere-Smith is a distinctive surname – but not distinctive enough for Google.
I was perplexed. I was envious. I was trying to be adult about it, but frankly, I was kind of angry too – I’d just spent months in horrid job, while my friend was having this fantastic lifestyle. How could a person earn enough to have the lifestyle, and be a writer, without having a published book?
No, he didn’t do publish on demand books, nor did he create limited edition books, although it turned out he did do limited edition, exclusive performance works. Peter worked entirely online, which explained the tech expertise. He ran a subscription-based web site, catering for well-heeled women who wanted a certain kind of private entertainment, the kind that Peter was evidently willing and able to supply. He gave me a password to the site and the feedback was clear – he was good, damn good, at what he did.
My envy turned into amazement, and then back secretly to envy mixed with curiosity. “How on earth did you get started in that kind of writing – tell me so I can too – just kidding. But how?”
Peter’s answer was matter-of-fact. He had been involved in a disabling car accident – he was unable to return to his previous role as an editor for a women’s magazine. He took the insurance money and called in some favours, and reinvented his life online. As to how he got started, well, apparently the injuries were significant, and a team of specialists undertook some radical therapy. “You won’t believe it,” he said, “they started by asking me to imagine playing tennis – serving, volleying and chasing down balls. And then they asked me to picture myself walking from room to room in my home.”
“That started the process, and with the assistance of technology I’m able to engage with people, and earn a healthy income, and enjoy myself – and have interesting conversations with people around the world. Plus, of course, my delightful customers.”
I had a feeling there was something slightly missing, and so, ‘Peter, what was the extent of your injuries?’ I was shocked to discover that the range of injuries was vast and the extent enormous. Peter lived life effectively bed ridden, assisted by nurses and a neurotechnician who managed the net connections and the brain wave interface – Peter did not use a keyboard, or voice activated software, it was entirely constructed by his thought processes.
My vision of Peter as this strapping surf god was replaced a shell of a man held together with high tech apparatus. “Don’t the customers find this disturbing?” I asked him.
“No”, he said, “They have an impression of me – I assist them to create an image of what they want me to be – tall, tanned with a Magnum moustache.”
I had to smile. “Sounds familiar, got a Hawaiian shirt?”
I could feel his laughter and Peter was back as I imagined him, and I could see how busy, lonely women would enjoy a ‘no-strings, wild things’ interlude with this guy. He was attentive, charming, he had ‘a certain way’.
“I’ve always known women want, and so I give it to them – well, let’s be clear, sell it to them.”
“You’re just a gigolo”, I joked with him.
“Oh no, only guys can be a gigolo.”
I was confused.
‘Try Google news for me on imagining playing tennis – “serving, volleying and chasing down balls”, and see just how I got started.’