When the instructions to the party had first turned up in my inbox I was a little suspicious. “You’re invited”. What does that mean? What were they trying to tell me? I’d been made a kind of honorary member of the Payments Illuminati (our motto: someone you trust is one of us) a year or two ago, but I didn’t realise at the time that membership came with responsibilities as well as an eight course meal with matching cocktails tapas rights. I stared at the menu. And stared some more.
What did they want? I didn’t want to attract attention so I told Howard that I was going to go have a glass of water and compose some calm reflections on Early Warning’s acquisition of ClearXchange and that I might be some time, because I needed a way to portray bank consolidation and an attempt to stay in control of the underlying platforms for future commerce in a funny way. But he was already heading down to the bar with a blonde.
I went in and sat down under the watchful gaze of Illuminati puppetmaster Bruce Parker. The guy opposite me said, with a hint of a Czech accent, “What is your favourite payment mechanism?”.
Wow. That set me thinking. On the one hand, I’m very fond of the Mayan cocoa-bean mechanism of exchange that was in use in from pre-Aztec times through to Central America in the 19th century, which had the particular merit of having a kind of demurrage built-in, because the beans were unsuitable as a long-term store of value. I took another sip of the rum-based rocket fuel had put in front of me.
On the other hand, I started to think, I do have an enduring fondness for the stone currency of the island of Yap both for its role in Milton Friedman’s well-known treatise and for its resurgent role as a narrative mechanism for introducing the concept of Bitcoin to people with no knowledge of mathematics. Damn.
I really didn’t know what kind of answer he was looking for and I didn’t want to show any kind of weakness or hesitation. I needed them to believe I was an insider, a payments yogi. I took a sip of rum and I said “Apple Pay, but only in a terminal that says Android Pay, because I don’t follow The Man’s rules.”
Then I thought I’d better try to make conversation so I asked him, how about you? “ELV” he told me, which I think gave away more information than he wanted to. While still trying to figure out what this payments state-within-a-state was up to I realised that I wasn’t sitting up any more and that this might not be the kind of behaviour expected of a gonzo consultant.
“Transparency is the new black”. I don’t know if I thought it or said it. I adjusted my posture, and sat up at the dinner table to pay attention. That was when the cherry Mescal arrived. Game over man.
Things turned nasty. I’d hardly finished the next gin-based cocktail before someone started going on about Nasdaq and the blockchain. “A blockchain”, I said. “Yes, that’s what I said” the guy told me. “The blockchain”. “If you don’t know the difference between the blockchain and a blockchain, then you are a blockhead” I told him and started sniggering uncontrollably. It went to and fro. Circular. Going nowhere. So Jonathan Levin asked me draw it on the back of a napkin. So I did. And here it is. A bit crumpled, but can just make out the scribbled replicated distributed shared ledger taxonomy. Or reptile disturbing seared dodger taxidermy, if you’d prefer.
Meanwhile, news had filtered through that Nasdaq were in fact launching a new platform for trading shares in private companies. Goddam. So now it’s a blockchain, not the blockchain. The Man was in control. I thought the blockchain was going to be the LSD of this generation, freeing their minds and opening up new ways to run the world outside the bounds of the senile oligarchy presiding over our corrupt corporatist nation. Damn The Man. “No!” I shouted. “This bar is permissionless! Get me a gin and tonic!”.
Later, much later, I was having a very pleasant conversation with the guys next to me, swapping stories ago getting pulled over by the cops in different states in different circumstances when I saw the shadowy figure of the reclusive Shamir Karkal over at the bar. So, I started thinking to myself, I think someone is pulling the strings here… “I’ve got to go, Bruce!” I said and stood up to leave only to find myself face-to-face with the Tapas Madonna. Her bright red lips were the focus of my entire world and the cascades of black hair falling to her shoulders were a frame for the kind of transcendental beauty that you can only see when you have been awake for 23 straight hours. “Make a distraction and I’ll follow the entrepreneur” I whispered…
“Would you like the last sea urchin roe on toast?”, she asked me.
“I didn’t want the first one” I replied, and walked towards the exit as if I was on slow-mo.