What does the world cost? Oh well, then we'll just take a small coke.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Desperate Student, Episode 13: Dung Collector

This story continues the sad, sad story of the Desperate Student. If you're not up to speed, catch up here.

Warning: This episode contains brutally vivid descriptions of desperate survival in the wilderness. While this tale of human tenacity and hardiness may inspire some, it will probably be unsuitable to our more disturbable readers. So, as if you needed anything more than the title to warn you: proceed with caution.

We pitched camp in a man-made clearing several miles from a war-torn Zimbabwean airport, deep in native-infested jungle. Jane was a beacon of assurance and stability. She stood calmly on the hood of the jeep cradling her sniper rifle, supervising the men and giving orders without raising her voice. I'm sure that without her, we would all have panicked and started killing each other. Our Nikes would have squished with blood.

Anyway, we eventually got the two large tents erected. One was for storing and testing the samples and equipment. The other was for living quarters. The latter tent had a partition running halfway down the middle, delineating men's and women's areas. In retrospect, it seems a bit strange that no one complained about how much space Jane took up.

We slept an uneasy and very sweaty six hours. Uneasy because we were surrounded on all sides by loyalist soldiers, well-armed rebels, and extremely indigenous tribal peoples. Sweaty because Jane's partition didn't give the thirteen of us enough room to spread our sleeping bags so we ended up lying all over each other like someone forgot to put away the lincoln logs. I kept waking up with a start, believing I'd heard a low whistle - which everyone knows is the signal to move in quietly and kill everyone in their sleep - and then Vince, who was mostly on top of me, would shout: "Ginger! Ginger don't leave me!" and everyone else would wake up grumbling.

"Join up, she say," Muttered Xavier, whose head was under Gordon, the burliest man there. "It'll be fun, she say."

We used the crack of dawn as an excuse to crawl out of the tent to catch some hot and muggy morning breeze. Jane was already awake, still cradling the rifle. She had erected a small table in the middle of camp, on which she was lighting a small propane stove. Her makeup was flawless.

"Oatmeal will be served in ten minutes," She said. "Go clean yourselves up."

"How?" Vince asked. I noticed that he was the only male who looked even remotely well-rested. "There's no showers anywhere."

"There's a river half a mile north of here. Just watch for piranha. They're especially voracious in the morning."

We all moved away from the camp into the trees, half expecting to be stabbed by tribesmen before we even reached the river.

"Watch out for piranha, she says." Muttered Xavier. "It'll be fun, she says."

"Well, I don't know about you guys," Said Vince, "But I'm all for telling her we cleaned but actually just hiding in the jungle for ten minutes."

"She'll know," I warned.

"Better than being thrown to the carnivorous fish!"

"That's debatable," Said Ned, a tall fellow with thick glasses.

"He's got a point," Vince conceded. "So maybe we should just splash water on ourselves from the shore."

"And get out hands eaten clean off?" Xavier cried.

"Good point," Vince conceded again. "Maybe we should rub ourselves with large, juicy leaves."

Seven minutes later, we licked ourselves clean.

The moment I looked Jane in the eye, I knew she saw right through our cheap scam. The corners of her mouth turned down slightly but she said nothing. We ate our breakfast in awkward silence from biodegradable bowls. Then we dug a compost pit and put the bowls in, followed by the coffee grounds and Gordon's sleeping bag.

With that, we got down to the business of collecting samples. Jane split us up into groups of 3 and four and had us spread out with 2-way radios in search of Orangutan habitat, the defining characteristic of which would be big orange monkeys lounging in the overhead canopy. I went with Vince, Xavier, and Ned. Ned took the walkie, the rest of us used machetes. We brought meals and water, but everything was gone by noon.

We wandered all day. The going was definitively arduous. The sticky heat melded skin and shirt together. The tough vines yielded only to several harsh blows from our machetes. We left a sweat trail so deep we were afraid the piranhas would use it to catch up to us.

Eventually we reached a place where the overhead canopy was thicker, which meant it was cooler down on the floor and the vegetation was sparser.

"I say we take a break here," Said Vince, collapsing against a tree.

"She'll know," I warned.

"And she'll probably have you thrown to the natives," Ned added.

Vince slid slowly down until he was lying on his back. His eyes rolled back into his head. "There's no way she'll know if I just take a half hour break. And even if she does - I really don't care anymore. You know, this has got to be the worst job ever! I can't believe I agreed to come here for minimum wage!"

"Look at the bright side," I urged. "At least you're not ..."

At that moment, Jane appeared up ahead, with Gordon, Bob, and Harry in tow.

Vince had his eyes closed and didn't notice. "There is no bright side," He said. "We're being paid a pittance to collect mammal mud in blazing heat with all manner of flora and fauna out to kill us! Jane Goodall is a loon."

"Gordon," Jane said calmly, "Throw Vince into the river."

"Oh great," Said Vince, not opening his eyes. Gordon scooped Vince up and tossed him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, then marched toward the river.

"How goes the search?" Jane asked.

There was an awkward silence. Everyone was watching Gordon and Vince disappear into the trees. Then Ned shook himself as if from a daze. "We have yet to find any habitats, ma'am."

She nodded, unsurprised. "Keep looking." Then, with a motion to Bob and Harry, she pushed on into the jungle.

We searched for the rest of the day, and never encountered anything bigger than a chihuahua. Note that we didn't see a chihuahua, either. We returned to camp suffering from near-total exhaustion and ravenous thirst.

Jane was by the picnic table, staring calmly at the jungle with her ever-present rifle ready. Bob was lying face-down in the mud and Harry was pulling two blue arrows from his back. Three others were leaning against trees looking like they were in a London bombing shelter listening to the Luftwaffe overhead.

"Hey guys," I said. "What's up?"

"Injun attack," Said Ferguson. "They got Ian's squad - him, Jack, and Wes."

"They weren't injuns, you doofus," Cried Bob, lifting his head from the ground enough to speak clearly. "They were natives. Injuns don't run this far south. Where were you in fourth grade?"

"Learning how to save you from injuns," Said Ferguson stubbornly.

"That's a burn," Harry reported, yanking the last arrow out with a satisfied grunt. "Nice one, Ferguson."

Jane stirred from her place at the table. "Three of our men perished in the jungle due to carelessness and poor coordination with the rest of the team. I'm sure the rest of you won't make the same mistake."

"We won't," Said Bob, rising slowly. "Say, where's Gordon and Vince gotten to? Shouldn't they be here by now?"

"It matter little," Jane said. "This team was deliberately overstaffed in anticipation of near-certain casualties. Now, let's focus on the task at hand - collecting samples of Orangutan dung for further study. Ferguson's squad spotted an excellent habitat about three miles north of here. Ferguson, your squad will rise at dawn and go to the position to collect samples. Ned, your squad will relieve him at noon. We will relieve you at four with further orders. Are there any questions?"

There weren't any.

"Then get some sleep. We have a big day tommorow."

We all crawled glumly into our side of the tent. "Get some sleep, she say," Growled Xavier. "It'll be fun, she say."

"I heard that," Jane said calmly from the other side of the partition.

We passed the night in silent discomfort. Of course, with five of the team members missing, we had a lot more room than we'd had the night before.

Ned shook me awake around eleven the next morning. Without getting too disgusting, let me just say that peeling my sleeping bag off preempted breakfast. I joined Ned and Xavier outside and we followed Ferguson's well-macheted trail to the Orangutan breeding grounds. We found our hapless team members engaged in an activity that made even me pause. I can honestly say that in all my history - serving as everything from Santa Clause to an assassinated body double - orangutan dung collection may have been the worst job I have ever held down to date.

Ferguson briefed us on the details, and then he and his boys fled down the trail, screaming.

The job was this. We patrolled an area covering approximately a square quarter mile. It contained perhaps twenty orangutans, which are sloths which orange shaggy fur. When we suspected that one of them was going to do its thing, we would signal to the others, and together, we'd hold a tarp under the creature and collect the specimen. Then we'd wrap it up, label and date it, and put it in a pile near the trail head.

A few things that made the job nasty: First, the obvious downside of collecting monkey doodoo. Second, the heat. Third, the bugs. Fourth, the humidity. Fifth, the swampy river running straight through the patrol zone, which forced us to swing across like Tarzan while crocodiles watched from below with greedy eyes. Sixth, the obvious downside of collecting monkey doodoo.
It was four of the worst hours of my life, perhaps comparable only with the time a bunch of FDA freaks spoon-fed poison into my eyes. Finally, Jane made her much-anticipated appearance, with a haggard Bob and Harry close behind. She took one look at the specimen stack and sniffed disdainfully. "We'll have to step up the collection pace," She said.

"Hey, come on," Xavier whined. "You can't just snap your fingers and make these things ..."

"I am perfectly aware of what you can and cannot do to communicate to Orangutans. May I remind you that I spent six months among them in disguise until they incorporated me into their culture."

"You what!?"

"Come on," I said, tugging him by the arm. "Let's go."

"Yes," Said Jane. "Go back to camp. Ferguson picked up signs of increased hostile native activity. He's fortifying now. Help him dig rifle pits. It'll be fun."

We double-timed it back to camp. My utter misery grew more intense with every step. I wished I'd never taken this job. Unemployment was a better option. Why had I accepted, anyway? It wasn't like I needed to fool Suzy into thinking I was financially solvent. She'd already dumped me.

Camp was deserted. I didn't see any signs of fortification, but most of the supplies were gone and there was a trail of dropped provisions running down the path back to the airport. The stuff that had been left behind - mostly scientific equipment - was covered with tooth marks made by very large jaws.

"Fortify, she say," Xavier moaned. "It'll be fun, she say."

It took us about five minutes to salvage what was left from the camp and load it into the other jeep. Ned got behind the wheel with Xavier riding shotgun. I loaded into the back and readied the machine gun.

We were about to punch it when Vince came back into camp from the direction Ferguson had left. He was covered with chew marks and pieces of him were missing all over, but he was still going strong. "Dinosaurs," He rasped, pointing ominously down the trail. "We ... we'll all die!"

"Not if I can help it," I said, grimly patting the top of the gun. "Load up, Vince. Let's get you out of here."

Vince loaded up, looking totally defeated, and pulled a few grenades out of his pockets. "Just in case," He explained, putting them on the floor between the extra gasoline tank and the dynamite.

"Hit the road, Ned!" I cried. Ned floored the gas. Moments later, we were whizzing through the dense jungle as fast as the four wheeler could take us. I watched the path ahead with total concentration, ready to shred anything that moved. Eventually we lost the trail. I don't pretend to know how it happened. The path ahead was simply not penetrable. It took me just seconds to find a solution. I squeezed the triggers and poured a whithering hail of lead into the foliage. The leaves and branches stripped and tore, then collapsed on themselves. Within seconds, the line of fire had opened a new path through the jungle.

"Go!" I shouted without releasing the triggers. We pushed onward, with me clearing the way. We went about twenty miles, during which time more damage was done to the rain forest than had been in done in the past decade by global warming, acid rain, urbanization, American Imperialism, and the Ford Motor Company combined. Finally the jungle began to thin out, and moments later, our jeep leapt from the cover of the trees and out onto the airport tarmac.

The terminal was in flames, and dozens of rebels were dancing around Jane Goodall's plane squeezing shots off into the air. I stopped firing and Ned slammed the brakes. We stared at each other for a full ten seconds of very awkward silence, punctuated by the hiss of the barrel as it cooled.

"Hit the road, he say," Xavier whispered. "It'll be fun, he say."

One of the rebels who appeared to hold a position of authority signaled to the others. A dozen rebels pointed the AK-47s in our direction with menacing grins.

"Gentlemen," I said quietly, "No matter what happens, I want to make sure you know that I regret coming to Africa. This was a waste of time and an unworthy cause to die for. I should have stayed home eating Milky Way bars and collecting unemployment benefits."

"Amen," Said Vince solemnly. We shook hands all around and prepared to meet our fates.


Christopher Yerziklewski said...

Oh my gosh! That was HILARIOUS. I believe that sets a new standard in the quality of your posts. Excellant job.

mommy g said...

Makes me wonder how much you were paid for this collection job. Truly you are the desperate student......

mommy g said...

And you are the desperate mom. Wow. I can't wait for the next episode.

Anonymous said...

If you ever need to know the difference between the two mommy g's, simply look at the address of the FCN authentic blog. The *real* mommy g has the proper http://fcnauthentic.blogspot.com, while the fake mommy g has the http://fcauthentic.blogspot.com address.

By that deduction, the first mommy g is real, the second isn't. (In this comment thread anyway.)

you can call me batman said...

ok, that was about the greatest thing EVER!!!1! Desperate Student ROCKS!!!!