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Terrifying Text Message from Down Under

November 16th, 2007 by Jeff Simmermon

I was three-quarters of the way through a bowl of duck noodle soup in Union Square last Friday when I got this mysterious, terrifying text:

Terrifying Text Message

That’s an Australian number. What with Facebook and e-mail being all the rage these days, there are only two people in that country that even have my phone number anymore, and I wouldn’t recognize theirs when it popped up on my phone.

One of those people is an ex-girlfriend whose current number is a mystery to me. I’d be on a plane in a heartbeat if she really needed my help. And while we’ve both moved on, I doubt her ability to find the dark thundering heart of true mayhem has faded much. She lives in this neighborhood:

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So does a suspected serial killer. So yeah, I was a bit worried.

On the other hand, it could have been my friend Dave, pictured here:

Armed and Luminous

Dave’s a driller from a long line of drillers. He travels to all sorts of hot, dusty and exotic places and extracts expensive substances from beneath tons of rock. As you might imagine, this is almost nothing like parking one’s expanding ass on a cushy chair in front of a computer. I’ve shared his letters from India before. Dave’s somewhere in Zambia now. Sometimes poachers and lions cross through his camp. He wrote this to me several months ago:

Last month the crew all jumped into the trucks one day while a leopard dragged an impala* across the site. That’s pretty cool/unnerving. I had no idea what an impala was either, but after flicking through an old copy of “Unique Cars”, I found out that the impala is in fact a rather large American automobile. Amazing.

Maybe a week before I got that mysterious text, he’d written that

I was doing some paperwork back at camp and heard about a dozen shots in five minutes. I don’t want to sound too blase here but I was mostly just ticked off about it. If there weren’t armed wardens patrolling in the area, there wouldn’t be gunfights. The camp contractor also had the window shot out of one of his supply trucks.

But an interesting footnote to the story: my trainee driller was telling me about a week later that he met one of the poachers in a village on the road out. He’d been shot in the leg in the fight and the others involved left him for dead, returning to his home to inform his family that he’d died. This fellow, however, walked for six days and nights through the hills to return home to see his own funeral!

So there I am, sitting there in a pan-Asian restaurant in Union Square, slurping down soup before a movie when I got that text message. I wrote back, saying

“Who is this? What’s wrong, and how can I help?”

I got nothing back. The check came, I paid. Nothing to do there, really, but continue my evening as planned. We went to see “No Country For Old Men,” an incredible, flawless thriller by the Coen Brothers about a deranged killer murdering people in various dry, dusty environments. Javier Bardem’s murderous bounty hunter does for the creepy man-bob haircut what Hitler did for the tiny mustache. But I digress.

So yeah, I was a little worked up when I came out of the movie. Still no response from the mystery texter.

I went straight home and flexed the power of Facebook, using all the Web 2.0 powers I could muster. I contacted all the friends I had in common with both parties, quoting the message and asking essentially “Have you seen or heard from XXXX?” I got in touch with his exes, her other exes, siblings, tangential friends, folks I’d never met but had heard about in conversation a lot three or four years ago … my invisible digital reach went back in time and across the planet many, many times over.

Of course, this was all I could do. Once I love someone, they’re in for life, and if it really means having to buy an expensive plane ticket and take an inconvenient trip, so be it. I just didn’t know where to go or whose body to identify. That’s pretty much where my mind was at the time.

Then I got this message from my friend Olivia, who dated Dave several years ago:

So I spoke to Dave tonight, he said he was completely obliterated last night & may have texted you then, but doesn’t quite remember what happened. He wanted me to reassure you he’s fine.

He’s going to work in the National Park tomorrow. The guy he’s partnered with was swiped by a lioness last time he was there, so I got Dave to promise to take photos/video footage & post it on You Tube if anything similar happened to him. At least then we can also enjoy the experience.

Dave rang me up later himself to personally apologize and managed to call everyone else I’d involved on his behalf, too. This is what a great friend does. Everyone’s entitled to make a mess from time to time, but it’s quality people that clean up after. He was there for me at some pretty tough times in my life, and I’d leap at the chance to return the favor … but it’s nice knowing I don’t have to yet, all the same.

Thanks to the power of text messaging and Facebook, a bunch of people who’ve drifted apart and across the globe were able to come together for a common cause and look in on a friend in need. It’s a triumph of technology that we can all grow apart, chase careers and find new partners and still have one another at arms’ reach.

Sort of.

On the other hand, if Dave had been carried off by a lioness what am I gonna do, Facebook-message a bunch of friendly baboons to haul his gnawed carcass out of a banana tree? The whole thing was needless drama, perpetuated by a) my nervous imagination and b) a misguided belief that from behind my glowing rectangle on my ever-expanding ass, I can change the course of a person’s life by pressing a series of buttons. Maybe, sort of, but not in the jungle where the lions are still king.

And even though it’s humbling and a real pin in the balloon of my pride, I’m really glad.

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