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Sunday Times Books LIVE

Ian Martin

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Frikkie And Plug Get Real

One evening Frikkie invited Plug over to meet Clarissa. He had given Annetjie the boot, because she had failed to meet expectations, and Zelda had committed suicide. In her farewell note Zelda blamed Frikkie for her death, but refrained from mentioning anything about her bipolar schizophrenia and heroin addiction.

“I don’t need any more of that shit in my life,” was Frikkie’s comment after he had delivered a moving eulogy, waved goodbye to the hearse, and accepted a cup of lukewarm tea in the church hall. “Women are nothing but grief.”

“Yes, but what about your hormones?” a well-meaning mourner had asked him. It was a valid point.

For some time after Zelda’s demise he placated his hormones when they became strident by calling Jasmine and having her send round a companion for the night. But he found it increasingly difficult to feel any ardour for these women and he derived no lasting satisfaction from the impersonal encounters. Then he heard about RealGirl dot com.

“Hello, Clarissa,” said plug. He took her hand, which was small and soft. She was sitting with Frikkie on the couch watching men running about on a flat green surface painted with white lines. At intervals, tens of thousands of spectators shouted in unison, thereby giving purpose to the activity they were witnessing.

Aware of how deeply Plug detested its intrusive presence, Frikkie imposed silence on the screen and then plunged it into darkness. He got up to pour drinks.

“Nice hair, fabulous figure,” said Plug, settling into an easy chair. “Just your type, Frikkie.”

“Yes, I chose her from the online catalogue, and I wasn’t disappointed when she jetted in from the States this morning.”

“So you’ve still got to …er…get to know her?”

“I didn’t want to rush things,” said Frikkie, handing his friend a vodka, lime and soda. He sat down again and rested a hand on Clarissa’s knee.

Plug sipped his drink and stared. After a while his eyes became unblinking and glassy, and Frikkie knew he was no longer looking but thinking.

“Yes,” said Plug after several minutes, as if the word meant something despite being marooned in the middle of nowhere. “Yes,” he said again, adjusting his glasses on his face and focussing on Frikkie, “it seems that the human brain has evolved to the stage where constructed, or virtual reality has overtaken unmitigated, raw reality as the main interface between the external world and us.”


“Billions of people now experience large chunks of their life by passively watching images on a TV screen, a computer monitor or a cell phone instead of engaging directly with the reality that is filtered and presented to them as news, or sport, or entertainment.”

“Is that so?”

“Take navigation,” said Plug. “These days, if you are driving from A to B, you hardly bother to orientate yourself using landmarks and the position of the sun, and you certainly don’t think about north and south, east and west. You just keep glancing at the dot you have become on your phone, or trust the Garmin lady when she tells you to turn right at the next intersection. And ships’ captains and airline pilots rarely bother to look out the window.”

“And that’s bad?”

“I’m not saying it’s good or bad,” said Plug. “I am just telling it like it is. Another example is the weather. Who still takes the trouble to predict if it will rain tomorrow by relying on their powers of observation? People used to be alert to a shift in wind direction, cloud type and formation, and colour in the sky at dawn and dusk. Not any more.”

“Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning? My father used to say bad weather was on the way when there was a ring around the moon. Talk shit. There would be three weeks of brilliant weather, and when it finally broke he said it was on account of that stupid ring around the moon. Kak! I’m quite happy to get a reliable, up to the minute forecast on my phone, any time day or night, thank you.”

“Yes, but at least your father was interacting with his physical environment on a one to one basis, and was aware of nature. Now people don’t even go outside to sniff the air.”

“I suppose you’re going somewhere with this?”

“I’m getting there,” said Plug. “What I am saying is that there is an increasing tendency to value objects and experiences not for their intrinsic qualities but for an image associated with them. The brand has become more than the product. The real product has been diminished and sidelined by its simulacrum, and people have become more susceptible to manipulation by those who are able to generate hype and promote the message underlying the image. Which is usually about buying something, no matter how ephemeral or worthless it might be.”

The liquid assets in both their glasses were exhausted and Frikkie got up to remedy the situation.

“So you’re thinking of ways to package shit and sell it as brown gold?” he said, now having a pretty good idea of how Plug’s mind was working. “What kind of shit?”

“There are a couple of possibilities that really appeal to me,” said Plug. “One is fake rhino horn. Many people in the East have been duped into believing that powdered rhino horn has supernatural qualities that make it effective as an aphrodisiac as well as a cure for cancer. Despite scientific proof that it is made of keratin, just like any other species of animal horn, it has become a highly sought after commodity fetching a ridiculously inflated price. It wouldn’t be that difficult to mass produce an artificial product indistinguishable from the genuine article.”

“I don’t know about this,” said Frikkie. “We could pick up serious trouble with the law if we start dealing in such stuff.”

“There would be nothing illegal about it,” said Plug. “We would be selling fake rhino horn, not the real thing. We would make that quite clear. If the people who buy it from us want to pass it off as poached rhino horn, well, that’s their problem.”

“Okay, that makes sense. So we would be selling to poachers and middle men?”

“Initially, yes. Then, as we slowly saturate the market, the price would come down until supply exceeds demand, consumers realise what gullible idiots they have been, the bubble will burst, and the rhino will be saved from extinction. And we would have made a lot of money while the going was good and before we sold out.”

“Well, that sounds pretty bloody cool. I like it. I think we must go for this in a big way. Refill?”

While Frikkie was busy with the bottles, Plug got up and cupped Clarissa’s chin in his hand and tilted her head back. Her full red lips were slightly parted and, as he had suspected, she was toothless. This mouth was designed for Frikkie’s pleasure, and Plug felt a twinge of envy.

“And what about that other brilliant idea you’ve had?” asked Frikkie once he was back on the couch.

“Ah, yes, stolen art works. It occurred to me that a famous painting or piece of sculpture acquires different value once it has been stolen and disappears.”

“How so?

“Well, in the first place, its high value is due to its fame and the hype around it,” said Plug. “The original owner usually pays more for the prestige of owning it than for the artwork itself. When a painting is stolen its fame receives a massive boost on account of all the publicity around the theft. If recovered, its value will have appreciated far more than if it had not been stolen.”

“Makes sense. Are we going to buy an expensive artwork and then stage a burglary?”

“I thought of that,” said Plug. “Too risky, though. If we were found out they would nail us for fraud. No. Instead, I was thinking of targeting the vulgar billionaires who would happily buy a work from the professional art thieves, and offer them a high quality replica of a stolen masterpiece. “Instead of forking out $5 million, they could pay us a mere 500 thousand, hang it on the wall, and boast to their odious pals that it is the original.”

“And it could be. That’s clever,” said Frikkie, nodding his head repeatedly, as if he was suffering a bout of Parkinson’s. “The asshole owner of the forgery would never allow it to be examined by experts. Pity we wouldn’t be able to sell more than one copy.”

“Why not? Unless the original was recovered, no one would ever be able to dispute the authenticity of our product. We could sell any number of copies until the real thing turned up. Only then would the bubble burst.”

“I like this,” said Frikkie. “It works on the same principle as the fake rhino horn. We can be strictly up front about the product and leave it to the creep who buys it to tell lies and play games, if that’s what turns him on.”

Over another drink or two they began to work out the plan of action that would be needed to set up a horn factory and an art duplication studio. By now they were well accustomed to this more mundane side to the strategising process, and after a while Frikkie began to show signs of restlessness. Plug got to his feet.

“Well, Frikkie,” he said, “it’s getting late and we can work on the details tomorrow when we are fresh. I’m sure you and Clarissa are ready for bed.”

“Yes,” said Frikkie, accompanying Plug to the door. “We’re going to watch a bit of porn, and then we’ll hit the sack. See you tomorrow.”


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