Volume I, Chapter One, Episode 1
We were taking a coffee break when MacKenzie called over for help unfolding his seized-up camp chair. I said “Got it,” balanced my mug carefully on a rickety wooden crate, covered it with my cap and moseyed off. As I shuffled away, Robbie, our newest and youngest crewmember, looked at the cap-covered mug, snickered and asked Uncle John, “Another TWT?” “Yup,” he replied; “It’s a Third-World Thing, kid. You’re learning.”
I like our new operations base. Set on sun-hammered caliche festooned with petrified puckerbrush and twisty weeds, it was once a wannabe ranch and forlorn farm. Stained, slashed and decorated with the burned-out shell of a stacked-rock main house and the blown over dried-out husks of pole-and-plank outbuildings, it is littered with busted crockery, piles of rusted cans, gears and shafts, unidentifiable shards in long-cold fire pits and even less identifiable mounds of moldering somethings rapidly returning to dust.
I stuck a shovel into one mound, just wondering if the main ingredient was animal or vegetable, and came up with six blue glass beads, a patch of scorched furred hide and a bent, child-size fork. Folks once lived hard lives here; probably short ones. It has a definite Third World ambience—I looked that word up—and I like it just fine. Feels like, well… home.
Maybe “home” is the wrong word. It’s just that more often than not, in the hinterlands of the Third World I’ve felt more, if not “comfortable,” then oriented, centered than I’ve ever felt in the First World, and definitely more than in the garish, ugly, conflicting high-tech/no-tech contrasts of the Second World. In the Third World, spectacular sunrises and sunsets, crystalline skies and brilliant, glittering stars can put you close to heaven. Turn your back on the land for two seconds and it’ll tip you straight into hell. Perhaps an old Brit, a leathery Africa-Asia hand described it best to me long ago:
“The Third World is comprised mainly of first, rot and muck, filth and rubbish. Second, deadly, poisonous flora and fauna and dreadful disease. Third, shattered illusions and dastardly treachery,”—adding, “My God, I love it. God help me, I love it so.” I understood completely. But I would add something: It’s at least one-fourth splinters. Go ahead, run your hand over any surface that in the developed countries would be baby-butt smooth. Or, just stand still, I swear the splinters will come for you! Most won’t slay you outright, but collect enough, they get infected, and the secondary effects will kill you deader’n Dulles.
It ain’t all that way, but there’s some of it—or a lot of it—everywhere in the 3W.
Learning Elementary TWT’s
I ’splained to Robbie: In the Third World, leave any drink uncovered and something noxious, living or recently deceased is gonna fall, crawl, hop or drop into it. Sometimes the wrong leaf or seedpod in your drink, particularly a hot one, can leave you with a mouth like a blowfish, swollen-shut eyes, an all-body rash like red astro-turf and permanent nerve damage so you walk like a spastic stork. It’s a TWT you should wisely carry over into the First World, dragging your tortured immune system behind you like a plastic sack of angry, desperate, asphyxiating weasels. Yeah, just form a mental image of that for a moment. That’s how it feels.
Robbie had already learned a couple of TWT’s. A few weeks before, he started to flop up against a stump to rest and I snagged him by the collar.
“Whoa, kid—look!” The stump would make a good backrest, true, and circling it was a profusion of soft-looking secondary growth that might look like an inviting butt-pad to the First-World eye. He asked what was wrong. I pointed out the worn runnel of a slender trail barely skirting the periphery of the secondary growth.
“Field mice, maybe rats use that trail. If you were a rattler, where’s your perfect ambush site? Don’t reach down there!” He had started to bend and part the grass.
“Wanna find him with your hand?” My first thoughts had been of bamboo vipers and puff adders, but rattlers play by the same rules. I think I hurt his feelings. Tough. He turned kinda resentfully and headed toward a dessicated but surviving tree. I followed, laughing. He glared.
“How ’bout this one? Can I catch a quick nap here, or will a crocodile get me?”
“No crocs, smartass. But look in the fissures of the bark. There’s an army of red fire ants on the march. They’ve got a subterranean condo complex somewhere close. Or, they could park in your pants. Your choice.” I smashed some with my stick and had him smell it.
“A TWT, kid; formic acid. If you’re lyin’ doggo in ambush and you get a whiff of that, abort the ambush an’ scoot! They can cover you like a shroud, fast, and it’s a gaudy, noisy way to die. If you get a buncha stings, have your buddies pee on ’em, then ya take antihistamines.” We talked. He didn’t get his nap, but he learned a few things. As we approached “Sometimes Creek,” I pointed out the hundreds of white-gray splotz under another tree.
“Not real dangerous,” I told him, “But unpleasant when 400 birds suddenly swoop in while you’re dozin’ and they commence mass poopin’ as soon as they light on the branches. The extended problem is, if they startle you, and you startle ’em back, they’ll explode into flight sounding off like a steam-powered calliope, alerting anything with ears to the presence of an intruder. You might deploy to the 3W someday. Learn smart sooner, or die stupid later.” Because I’m me, of course I expanded the lesson.
“Avoid big trees near rivers fulla fish and amphibians, especially trees offering a commanding view of the river from the top branches. The big fish-eatin’ raptors can drop a load like there’s a Doberman with diarrhea up there and their scat is way worse than that of hawks chowin’ down on bunny-wabbits. The sticky, greasy stench will cling to ya like a liberty-night-in-Olongapo tattoo. I’d rather be bombarded with owl casts than take one hit from an African fish-eagle or a South Asian osprey. And I have.
“And if you’re right under a big fish-eater’s nest or chow-table and you startle—or more likely, just irritate—one, they’ll go airborne with ear-splitting shrieks; war cries. Locals hear that, and if they don’t see a competing big raptor cruisin’ nearby—a territorial-integrity violation—they’ll know there’s a predator under that tree. Depending on the time of day, they can make a good guess whether it’s 4-legged or two. If it’s two, and that 2-legged is you, you can expect an AK-armed welcoming committee shortly.”
The Following Preview is Rated PG-13
We’re ’bout outta space and we’ve only scratched the first skeeter-bite of TWT’s and 3W’s. If you don’t wanna read any more, tell the editor. I listen when he says stuff like “Re’ this subjeck: SHUDDUP.” Otherwise, you’ll get more, between dollops of SillyStuff, book reviews, Border Stories, raging rants and unwanted advice. OK?
Future episodes of TWT’s & 3W’s may reveal to you answers to the mystifying questions, Whither poopest, pilgrim?, What the heck is a Pit-zuh Kek? and more. Learn why you should never waste time wondering why a 3W generalissimo or commandante makes crazy decisions—and what you should do in response to one; why teach 3W soldiers to sing these two songs: “Don’ sweep me, bro; no, don’t sweep me, bro!” (plus the value of adding a laser sight to the song) and “Booger-hook off da Bang-Switch, Buddy!”
You might find it interesting. OK, maybe not. Connor OUT.
By John Connor