2 - The Third World

My hotel wasn't in New York's nicest neighborhood but it had the advantage of being cheap, and conveniently located near a subway station. I entered a world which at first seemed dodgy, because I was trained to think that Brooklyn after midnight was dodgy, but I sensed no danger. Indeed, I was delighted to inaugurate my cultural odyssey. I ditched my backpack then went straight back outside to explore, but first I put a twenty-dollar bill into my shirt's secret pocket, enough cash for a taxi ride home.

My father taught me to sew secret pockets, and to carry a decoy wallet too. Pops was paranoid. Once a soldier, he sadly grew fat and lazy as he squandered his inheritance on five-star hotels and chic restaurants. I resembled more my grandfather, and this made me smile as I wandered in search of beer. I planned to travel for years, and like him it was in my nature to be frugal. Gramps loved India. His passionate stories of adventure had everything to do with my going there first; and New York City was on the way.

I entered the first bar on my random path, an Irish pub. The rustic detail screamed authenticity but the clientèle did not. I was the only white guy. I ordered a pint of Guinness, then I noticed the woman sitting next to me staring into an empty bottle. I saw her as depressed, perhaps lonely, so I ordered a second pint.

She looked up from her trance to say, "Thanks."

"You're welcome," I said. "I'm Raymond, and you must be somebody else."

The woman introduced herself as Sasha. She almost smiled.

Hoping to brighten her mood, I burst with enthusiasm, "You're not gonna believe what happened to me today!"

Sasha's eyes indicated curiosity, so I told her the story of the joint, the book, and the cool cop who let me go, concluding, "Frank searched my backpack, again, as if he figured I somehow managed to score another joint since I left the cell."

The bartender served our Guinness.

Sasha raised her glass with friendly glance, then she said, "If you were poor and black, you'd be in jail." Her stare was intense but not unkind.

I put my beer down and stared back. "What makes you so sure?" I asked. "I mean, that cop was pretty cool. Maybe if I was poor and black, he'd have felt sorry for me and let me go just the same."

"Maybe," she said. "Who knows?"

My celebratory mood transformed, I made a toast to freedom, then I asked my fellow traveller why she was out at one o'clock in the morning.

"I'm a social worker," she said, "but my funding just got cut off."


"Yeah. I help unwed, pregnant girls; that is, I used to. I can't do it for no money!" Sigh. "I don't want to beat up on you, but a lot of the fathers are in prison for drugs, so when a white kid gets away with a slap on the wrist, well that pisses me off. Nothing personal."

I encouraged Sasha to talk about her girls. Lacking stable family environments, she had been their mentor, sometimes their only adult friend and confidant, but the country's priorities changed.

"So Raymond," she said, "What brings you to New York again?"

"Today's the first day of my world tour. Remember? The joint? Pedro's book?"

"Oh yeah."

"Yeah! I fly to Delhi the day after tomorrow!"

"Well, I hope you have fun."


"Funny isn't it? I always thought of India as the third world. You know? But it's probably nicer than Brooklyn."

"I don't know. I've heard they have some pretty extreme poverty over there."

"Yeah. I shouldn't complain on a full stomach."

My drinking buddy hit her beer and stared at me, so I hit mine too, scanning faces. I felt surprisingly great, because I was elsewhere and on my way.

Sasha broke the silence by asking me if she could ask a personal question. I nodded my approval so she queried, "How you gonna pay for this world tour of yours? Sorry, I know it's none of my business, but no young men I know are going on extended overseas holidays..."

I told her I was a lucky bastard. I told her, "When my grandfather died, Pops bought himself a new house with the inheritance money, then he gave our old house to me, and I just sold it."

"I see," she said. "You are a lucky bastard."


I told Sasha about my ex-girlfriend Maia. I always wanted to travel the world and Maia gave me the excuse to go. All I had to do was sell the house. I told Sasha, "I caught her sleeping with another guy, and then we got into a fight, and then she dumped me, so... I thought I was in love but... I'll forget about Maia soon enough. I'm on my way to India!"

Sasha smiled. "Good for you! Sell your house and go learn about the world. Fly to Delhi and get your mind blown away. I admire that. Most people wouldn't do that. You have courage. Eat some interesting food for me."

"Thanks," I said. "I will... So what about you? Where's the old man?"



"Nah. Johnny fancies himself something of a messiah, sent to Earth to save our souls. He wasn't on drugs, but there were times when it sure seemed like he was. The police busted him once breaking into the Humane Society to free all the dogs. Another time they caught him trying to steal holy water from a Catholic church. He's a little loco."

"He sounds like he's missing some marbles, but not necessarily criminal."

"No, he's a criminal. The messiah shouldn't have to work, you know?"


"Yeah. Johnny's got a big heart, but I'm gonna divorce him. I'm not giving up on love."

Sasha and I enjoyed another round of beer, then we left together to the New York night. I went left and she went right.

I walked boldly ahead pondering my good fortune, but after a few blocks I noticed a posse of punks lurking in a dark corner, so I changed course, feeling fear. Sasha said I was lucky and courageous but I knew the opposite of cowardice was reckless stupidity, so I made haste to my room and locked the door. I put my decoy wallet on the bedside table, I recalled my most eventful day, I pondered the nature of adventure, and I wondered why my name was on the airport's secret list. Then I felt overwhelmed by a simple sense of joy because I was finally on the road, finally free. I fell asleep smiling.