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How Not to Save the World

I'm still putting the finishing touches on How Not to Make Friends but you can read some excerpts from How Not to Save the World below.

Scene from Dakar, Senegal

I headed over to the FedEx office to check on a box of APC marketing materials I had sent for the conference. The office was on the other side of town, too far to walk on such a hot day. I would have to catch a taxi.

One came to a sharp stop inches away before I could raise my hand. Before we could depart, I had to haggle over the cost of the ride as other cars zoomed past honking because my taxi was blocking one of the two lanes and taking up some prime, non-pothole space. Dakar is where I learned the finer points of bargaining since the cost of the ride was influenced by the route, the exact angle of the sun, and the mood of the taxi driver.

Once we had settle on a price I was treated to a breakneck ride through the city. The driver appeared to be training for the Dakar Rally. I doubt if any of the taxi drivers had ever entered the competition, but they were well prepared.

Since any lines demarcating lanes were long gone, the taxi driver felt free to explore his creative range in seeking out the fastest possible route through congested traffic. I held on tight as the taxi went pothole-spelunking through the city. My consolation was the soothing sound of Youssou N'Dour wailing from the only working speaker, right next to my head.

I caught brief whiffs of cooking food from burger joints, Vietnamese restaurants, Lebanese shawarma stands, patisseries, and of course Senegalese restaurants serving up spicy fish stew. All the while, taxis competed for space on the road with car rapides, horse-drawn carts piled high with sacks of rice, ancient bicycles, every variation of two-wheeled motorized vehicle, herds of goats, and very brave pedestrians.

One of Izi's gadget-packed gowns

“It suits you.” Izi then launched into an animated description of her current project. “So, I told you about the scuba gown, but what I didn’t tell you is that I’m in the process of building superhuman strength into the arms of the dress.” Izi ran her right hand up and down her thin, muscular, deep brown left arm. “It’s this amazing new technology developed by some mega-genius-nerds over at the MIT Robotics Lab.” As she continued her description, she twirled one big chunk of her enormous, thick Afro. After a few minutes, she had achieved her usual look of one Afro horn sticking out of the side of her head.

Since we graduated from college, Izi worked relentlessly on her business, GoGadget, designing wearable devices for people with disabilities. On the side, she created intricate high fashion gowns that incorporate her high tech inventions. It’s The Matrix meets Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Her dresses are all one-of-a-kind. They sell for thousands of dollars, when she can sell them. Considering that she often devotes several months to each one, that doesn’t sound like a ridiculous price. Her creations would be most appropriate for a female James Bond headed to a state dinner with the Queen of England where she might have to foil a terrorist threat.

“Would you like to meet the scuba gown in person?” Izi asked.

“Let’s go.”

Izi lives in a warehouse loft South of Market that doubles as her lab. The building is made of old crumbling brick and used to be a bread factory. Sometimes you can still smell the Wonder Bread.

As we approached the large garage door that serves as the apartment entrance, the door slid up and opened. Izi pointed to the bracelet on her wrist.

“Last month I built remote transmitters into all of my jewelry. As soon as I get within twenty feet of the garage, the door opens,” she said.

“Is that safe in this part of town?” I asked.

“If I wanted to feel safe, I wouldn’t live in this part of town,” she replied.

We walked into the warehouse. It was one enormous room the size of a high school basketball court. Her previous inventions hung from the ceiling like superheroes coming to save us. Most of the walls were covered with shelves, which held electronics in various stages of disassembly. It looked like this was where old gadgets came to die or to be tortured by the evil inventor, Izi. There were piles of fabric everywhere like an Indian bazaar. Racks of clothes were stacked at the far end of the room. The kitchen was exposed and barely used. A simple screen delimited her bathroom, ensuring that only guests who felt very comfortable would stay long enough to use it.

We walked towards her worktable in the middle of the vast room.

"Here it is." She swung off of the table the most beautiful ball gown I had ever seen. It had long fitted sleeves that covered part of the hand. The neckline was cut low in the front and reached off the shoulders in the back creating a high open collar. The skirt had a mermaid-like shape, fitted through the hips and then rushing out at the knees.

“The material is neoprene, like scuba gear, but it’s softer and thinner than regular neoprene.” She stroked the skirt.

“It’s incredible.”

“Why don’t you try it on?”

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