Sunday, April 12, 2009

Paradise Lust: An Eco-Friendly Journey Into the Heart of the Amazon - Chapter Two

Chapter Two: The Lineman’s Tale

As it turns out, sleeping by the eaves of a rainforest is not nearly so restful as sleeping in the city.

In the city, I’ve always been comforted by the constant sounds of humanity. The growl of airplanes and buses carrying people about from here to yon; huge tractor trailers rumbling through the night delivering the goods that keep our nation thriving; the wail of sirens assuring me that, though someone may be in a tight spot, help is on the way. These and the numerous car alarms and the loud, drunk people across the street together lull me into a quiet, contented slumber.

This was certainly not the case in Saint San-Don Pueblo after dark. I huddled on Pepe’s miserable little cot, wrapped tightly in my shower curtain blanket and tried to sleep, despite the rainforest’s cacophony just beyond my window.

At first, there was a deafening silence. No automobiles, no sirens, no drunk people. Then, other sounds — scary sounds; the sounds of monsters — were borne to my ears on the hot breath of the forest.

I became aware of the awp-awp of what may have been some kind of frog and the eep-eep of some restless primate. There was the hoo-hoo cry of some bird which had spent all day trying to impress the female of the species with his plumage, and the disappointed why-why from the female who had just learned the crushing truth that even pretty birds are all the same in the dark.

I swear I heard the sound of distant drums deep in the forest. And I would have heard the crash of falling trees all around me too, no doubt, if anyone had been there to witness those events. Much closer to home, in the next cabin, the clown was snoring. Wheeeee-honk-a! I hated the clown.

I was finally able to drift off into a fitful sleep, knowing that somewhere out there among the sounds of the night was my square foot of rainforest and I would soon see it for myself.


I awoke to Pepe’s unrelenting clamor outside the cabin door.

“Meester Bob! Wake up, Meester Bob! The sun ees shining and de girl need choor blanket to take a shower! Rise and shining, please, Meester Bob!”

I grudgingly handed over my blanket and went to join my traveling companions as they scrambled to prepare a breakfast of powdered eggs and Bac-Os.

We made small talk as we ate.

“Quite a ruckus last night,” said Roy “Pole Cat” Leary, the telephone lineman.

Honk-a! agreed Geo, the clown.

“What you think, Meester Bob?” Pepe asked as he handed me a Dixie Cup of freeze-dried coffee and powdered milk.

“I could have done without the monkeys,” I said. “What kind of breakfast is this?” I asked as I regarded my powdered provender with thinly disguised loathing. “Do I eat it or snort it?”

The Pole Cat looked at me as he licked a mouthful of egg off his plate.

“It’s really not bad,” he said. “Really. Know what the worst part is?”

“Powder burns?” I asked.

Just then Timmy, the New Hampshire kid, pointed out a peculiar bird that had just emerged, scratching and pecking, from behind one of the cabins.

“WTF kind of bird is that, Mr. Pepe?” he asked our stalwart guide.

“Ah! Dat ees de macaw. Very nice bird. Very tame. He like you.”

“That’s not a macaw,” Pole Cat said. “That’s a chicken that somebody spray painted red!”

“Why don’t we eat it?” I asked.

“No, Meester Bob! Macaw is protected!”

“You can’t protect a chicken!” I said. “It’s the most common bird in the world!”

Before I could bolster my argument for eating the red chicken, Christy Smith-Christie, our co-ed companion, joined us after her shower. We quickly finished our breakfast, grabbed our gear and prepared to enter the forest to see the square feet we had each saved with our (Lil) Green Patches.

As we turned to leave the cabins, I trailed behind for a moment and scattered my uneaten breakfast to the wind, as I am sure would have been its final request.


We all — five people and a clown — clambered into a narrow canoe with a tiny outboard motor which hardly seemed up to the task of transporting us all upriver. With Pepe steering, we putt-putted our way into a minor tributary of the mighty Amazon beneath the rainforest’s ominous canopy just as the little bark boats from the “Tales of the Okefenokee” at Six Flags before did before Uncle Remus was deemed too un-PC and replaced by the “Haunted Mansion.”

We traveled upriver for about five hours, until our little motor sputtered to an unsurprising halt. As we began to drift back the way we had come, Pepe opened the housing to see what inside the little motor might be jiggled to coax it back to life.

“Ah! Ees chust a problem weeth thees gaskeet! I can feex! I can feex!” He pulled on the gasket for a minute or two until the motor reluctantly released its grip. “See? Ees easy! I can … ohhh! …”

That last was Pepe’s stunned reaction as the gasket somersaulted from the motor and into the river with barely a second’s layover in his hands.

“Ohhh ! …” he said again, in case we had missed it the first time or in case we had not fully comprehended the depth of his remorse. “We going to die now.”

To a man — or girl or clown — we all gave him the Stank Eye with as much conviction as possible as we drifted slowly downstream. This lasted a few awkward minutes until we heaved up on some object sticking out of the water.

“We’re saved!” shouted Smith-Christie.

“Yippee!” the boy exclaimed clapping his hands in delight.


“Now, all we have to do is swim to shore and go the rest of the way on foot, right?” asked the Pole Cat.

“No, no! Look!” Pepe pointed at the water surrounding our little canoe. “Ees piranha. Dey eat jew qweek!”

“Throw ’em the clown,” I suggested.

I was really only half serious, but, surprisingly, the others agreed. It only took two of us to hoist Geo over the side, and, once the piranha were preoccupied, the rest of us grabbed what we could and high-tailed it to safety.

Now, I don’t want you to think I was thoughtless or unkind in suggesting we throw the clown overboard, because he was O.K. The piranha went straight for his oversized feet and nibbled them down to just regular feet size. He was only a few minutes behind us as we pulled ourselves ashore and began to take stock of our situation.


Wet and bedraggled, we sat in uncomfortable silence as, somewhere above the forest canopy, the sun set. Pepe provided a supper consisting of a bouillon cube apiece, and I chewed mine lost in solitary thought.

“I wish we had a fire,” said the Pole Cat.

“Oh … wood here too wet to burn, Meester Pole Cat,” said Pepe.

We were facing a grim, miserable night, when Christy Smith-Christie, our co-ed companion from Berkeley, really stepped up to the plate. “I’ve got something we can burn. It’s from Colombia."

I love coffee!

Hidden in her gear was a bale of ... something ... which we lit and huddled around for warmth and comfort just like our ancient ancestors must have done ages ago. As the fire guttered and sparked, the eyes of the forest watched from the darkness as we explored a newfound camaraderie.

It was Pepe who asked what we had all been thinking. “Why haff jew come here? Why did jew leef choor country to see our rainforeest, full of heedden dangers?”

“I’ll tell you,” said Roy “Pole Cat” Leary, and all eyes focused upon him.



“My family was one of the pre-eminent families in the early days of telecommunications,” he began, wistfully. “My Great-great grandfather was Patrick O’Leary Leary, the inventor of the telegraph pole. He was in the final stages of development of a telegraph pole tall enough to stretch a cable from North America to Europe when the Transatlantic cable was laid.”

“I remember reading about that,” I said.

“His brother went insane designing a way to send Braille in Morse Code, but dammit, he did it. He did it!”

“I saw that on Discovery Channel,” said Smith-Christie.

“My great grandfather invented the Verbal Answering Automaton — the answering machine — ten years before Bell invented the telephone.”

“IDK WTF you’re talking about,” said the ten-year-old.

“My grandfather, Timothy Leary, was one of the original T’s of AT&T when it was still ATT&T.”


“But I …” he turned away, his face half in shadow, “… I have let them all down. They blazed the trail. They set the standard. The best I could do is become a lineman. A common lineman.” He buried his face in his hands and began to weep softly. “A lineman. …”

“But that’s something, isn’t it?” I asked.

“I’m afraid of heights!” he said, and began to sob in earnest.

“Dat’s not so bad, Meester Pole Cat,” said Pepe. “I theenk.”

“So I used Facebook to send as many plants and anthropomorphized vegetable-children to all the friends I could, hoping that I could save just one square foot of rainforest. On that square foot, I hope, is the tallest tree in this forest. And I’m going to climb it and take this kerchief,” he showed us a kerchief, “this kerchief which was given to my great grandfather by Ma Bell herself — yeah, she was real … as real as Aunt Jemima ever was — and tie it to the topmost branch. Because I'm not afraid. Not afraid. And I’m worthy … worthy …” He really broke down then.

We all turned away and left him to his thoughts. Not because we cared, but because we were embarrassed. And the fire slowly went out. Because bales of coffee only burn for so long.

1 comment:

Nessa said...

You are a mad genius, you know that, right?
This is great....