My old best friend from elementary school just called me and started to tell me her life story.
When I left for California, her family went to Burma, having been roped into an elephant-raising scheme that turned out to be a scam.
The nice part is, the man behind the scam felt guilty. He had never tried a pyramid scheme before and found that he hated doing it. He felt bad enough that he offered to put my friend through school with a famous local teacher. No one realized at the time that the teacher was a robot.
It is surprising that no one caught on that the teacher was a robot, because he looked like a huge sphere mounted on top of a chassis with four monster-truck wheels. The robot was pretty smooth about the whole thing, and always just dodged the question when asked.
That's where my best friend learned her big lesson in Burma, from that teacher. She learned to evade questions convincingly without ever lying. Eventually, after a few months, her teacher finally let on that he was a robot. She was angry at first, but then happy - she had a special robot friend.
I guess that made what happened next all the more tragic.
A cashew merchant from Mozambique rolled through town with a truck full of cashew oil. I didn't know this, but some cashew extracts are incredibly caustic and can burn human flesh. The merchant set up shop in the area, first claiming to be the Pope, and then demanded tribute, at threat of unstopping his cashew-extract truck and unleashing massive destruction. Nobody was sure what to do about it. They couldn't call the police - this was the Pope!
So, for about five years, my best friend lived in a very impoverished town, sucked dry by constant need to pay tribute to cashew extortion. It didn't really bring her down, though - her robot teacher kept up her sense of wonder about the world. Then, however, there was a bad crop year, and the town could no longer safely support the violent propaganda of its cashew-wielding parasitic master. Only my best friend's teacher, the spherical monster-truck-tired robot, had both the force of will and the physical strength to stand up to this threat.
(It is an interesting side note that the cruelest, and most successful, of tyrants is the one who demands to be sincerely loved and trusted.)
The robot teacher dug a huge hole, then careened into the cashew truck, spilling the caustic extract everywhere and killing the tyrant. The teacher managed to route almost all of the dangerous fluids into the hole, but was burned past repair in the process.
My best friend held a tiny funeral in the teacher's honor, but everyone else refused to attend - they were too enraged by the sudden realization that the teacher had been a robot all along.
She was heartbroken, and made a decision, then. The people of her home were not her people. She had only one choice to grow and become a better person: she would move to Renfro, Missouri, and become a dentist. And so off she went, hitch-hiking her way from Burma to Missouri. It was a long trip.
She caught a ride from a trucker hauling cinammon to Bangladesh. "Cinammon," said the trucker, "Is the spice of intensity. Too much of it can kill you. It disrupts ants. It is the element of fire." My friend said it was the spice of toothpaste. The trucker didn't appreciate that.
In Bangladesh, she worked for a week as a roadside investment banker, giving financial advice to passersby. She didn't do well, since she had no qualifications whatsoever, but she did well enough to buy a bus ticket to New Delhi.
In New Delhi, she met a baker who baked knives into the bread. She suggested he stop. His business improved so much from the change that he gave her a ride to Shikarpur in Pakistan.
In Shikarpur she found a mule with a thorn stuck in its hoof. She removed the thorn, and the mule, who was quite fond of the thorn, became enraged until she agreed to hike with it all the way across the mountains to Ahvaz in Iran. She took two years crossing those mountains, growing increasingly resentful of the mule and its guilt trip. About 10 miles from Ahvaz she got sick of it and hitched a ride with a traveling salesmen she'd gotten to know in the two years of hiking along those roads.
Along the road that whole time, she studied steam power. When she reached Ahvaz, she teamed up with a forgetful but brilliant scientist in a lab coat, a broad-shouldered man with a checkered past, a maverick test pilot, and a monkey, to build a steam-powered wheelcar, about the size of a city block, which rolled along the plains at over a hundred miles per hour on huge rickety wheels. They forgot to put any brakes on it, though, and it splashed into the Mediterranean Sea. Hundreds of hours of work and millions of dollars of equipment (not to mention some very lovely steam) joined the minotaur cloning labs, Jimmy Hoffa's corpse and the magnetic monopole at the bottom of the Baby Washtub of Civilization.
She was found by some friendly and earnest fishermen on a tiny, tiny Greek island which had no contact with the outside world in centuries. She taught them steam technology, anarcho-capitalism, and rock and roll. They taught her how to play chess, and they taught her to cherish the taste of seafood.
Eventually, everyone agreed that the best way to get my best friend to her best home (Renfro, Missouri, if you'll recall) would be to build a giant steam-powered fish. They made plans to raid the neighboring island of its steam, and within weeks, they were ready.
The journey of the steam-powered fish was a disaster. They had built it too well. Instead of swimming anywhere neat Renfro, it mostly kept near rocks and nibbled at food.
Of course, steam powered fish can't eat food, so the fish got very sick. They took the fish to Athens, to a fish dentist. The fish dentist agreed to help the steam-powered fish, but only if my friend would bring back ten million dollars worth of captured Nazi gold. She managed to win an auction and bought the gold for way below normal price, and came back to the fish dentist. Meanwhile, the fish dentist and the village elder had fallen in love, and everyone realized that the whole steam-powered fish thing was a bad idea. So they used the gold money to bring everyone along to Hawaii, my friend included.
They spent a month there, buying tourist stuff and having luaus. When the rest of the islanders returned home, my friend said she needed to stay, as this would bring her closer to her home.
(This is a dynamic journal entry. More about my elementary school best friend and her story will be added as time goes on, in this journal entry, which will be edited and updated. This makes the whole thing more difficult to read, and therefore builds character.)