Nothing is sacred in Fred Russell's absurdist satire, in which freedom fighters of all stripes try to survive a convention.
I had arrived with the Israeli contingent, mostly Peace Now types. Some of them had participated in the Great March to Herzliyya a few months back when over two million Israelis had taken to the roads to try out for the season's new reality shows. We were on a package tour this time, getting bussed down to Eilat from Tel Aviv for a day of fun and then across to the old Bir Gafgafa airbase in Sinai where an ancient Tupolev transport plane disguised as a blimp took us down to Sharm. Our bus driver made it clear that he expected a big tip.
We checked into the Camel Dive late at night. The next morning, at breakfast, I found myself talking to some members of the American contingent. Carl, an Iraq veteran, had come with two women. One of them was his wife. She kept handing him an infant and running off to play tennis. She was a short, dark, lively Italian girl who had once played professionally. Every time she handed him the infant she shrieked or grunted. The other woman was a tall blonde. She must have been his girlfriend.
The journalists and arms dealers had their hospitality suite in one of the villas at the Four Seasons. That's where all the action was. They brought Walid over for some interviews and to look at the explosives. A journalist named Tom interviewed him first, nodding and grinning to encourage him to talk about killing Jews. Mustafa stood by glaring. Tom didn't have the balls to ask any really tough questions.
Carl talked to the journalists about catching Iraqi insurgents and interrogating them with the help of interpreters who spoke pidgin English. The information extracted from the insurgents with the aid of the interpreters was worked up into intelligence reports by officials who understood neither the language nor the culture of the country they had liberated. These reports were passed on to the American president and the officials who surrounded him, who also did not understand the language or the culture of the country they had liberated. On the basis of these reports the American president assessed the mood of the Iraqi people and the probable course of future events. Somehow things hadn't worked out.
The Israelis spent most of their time in the dining room, asking for second helpings of everything. Late in the morning there was a tearful reunion with Walid. In their eagerness to kiss his big head the Israelis knocked him off his skateboard. The skateboard rolled down to the swimming pool where Carl's wife stepped on it and went flying into the water with the biggest scream ever heard outside a tennis court. She managed to toss the baby to Carl's blonde girlfriend, who bobbled it and let it fall, perhaps intentionally. Fortunately Tom, who had been chasing the skateboard hoping to interview it, was right there to catch the baby before it hit the ground. Now everyone wanted to interview Tom.
Mustafa retrieved the skateboard and hooked up Walid again. Walid asked him to scratch his nose. That was always a problem when you lost your arms fighting for freedom. Mustafa didn't talk much. In addition to the steamship trunk he carried around a Qassam rocket launcher, so people kept away from him. After lunch everyone went down to the beach for some street theater. This was a dramatic reenactment of a Tel Aviv bus bombing. Hosni Mubarak donated the bus, sending it over filled with political prisoners. The bus bomber made a long speech and got a tremendous ovation. He wore traditional freedom fighting garb, quasi-military togs, a keffiyeh masking his face and the suicide belt. Afterwards there was a suicide bomber fashion show. Everyone remarked that Ibrahim Shabib was showing a little too much leg. There was also a Gaddafi lookalike contest. Gaddafi himself came as Harpo Marx, which created a lot of confusion.
The Israelis found a felafel stand down by the cabanas and were lined up three abreast with a lot of pushing and shoving going on. A retired colonel familiar to everyone from the talk shows tried to restore order. He had a deep voice and never smiled. The entire Peace Now contingent was being taunted by a couple of teenage West Bank settlers who had infiltrated the group disguised as environmentalists. Now they tore off their green jerseys to reveal their true colors. The settlers ran around in circles laughing while the peace-loving Israelis tried to catch them. Walid got knocked off his skateboard again. Mustafa raised his rocket launcher to the firing position.
Carl spent the day at the swimming pool. It looked to me like he'd had his fill of freedom fighting. It was Rona, his blonde girlfriend, who'd dragged him off to Sharm. She supported freedom fighters all around the world and was getting a reputation as something of a freedom fighter groupie. When she mingled with the shahids she had to dress in black and wrap her head in a dish towel with a little periscope for navigation. She'd had one of these periscopes confiscated in Tehran and almost got herself tossed into the clink to boot.
The teenagers tried to get a caravan into the lobby of the Four Seasons and start a new settlement there. When they couldn't get it through the door they tried to take over the toilet next to the dining room. Unfortunately Mustafa was using it at the time and a heated argument ensued with some rock throwing and name calling. Egyptian Special Forces were called in and a compromise was worked out. The Israelis would use the toilet in the morning and the freedom fighters in the afternoon when their bowels went soft on the fistuk and ful they'd been consuming all day.
The British contingent was led by Sir Barnaby Smudge, who'd participated in the liberation of the Falklands. His forebears had been decimating indigenous populations for over three hundred years. As a veteran freedom fighter Smudge was treated with great respect. Walid, though, didn't think much of him and made snide remarks behind his back in his hoarse, croaking Señor Wences voice which Mustafa repeated at every opportunity. The British retorted that at the height of their imperial glory they had killed more people in a single day than Walid would kill in a lifetime. They'd also done pretty well in Kosovo and Iraq. A special seminar was immediately scheduled at which the rival parties might state their claims.
Al-Qaeda sent an observer, with videotaped Hanukkah and Christmas greetings from Bin Laden. The American president sent a message too, expressing the hope that people everywhere would continue to fight for freedom so that they could drink Coca-Cola and enjoy an occasional round of golf at their local country clubs. Everyone asked after Walid's health. His story had been turned into a movie, with Al Pacino in the title role. Al, however, had objected to sitting on a skateboard for three months so they had turned Walid into a paraplegic and put him in a wheelchair. His arms and legs were played by Sylvester Stallone.
Walid had been normal once, that is, he had been studying civil engineering at Cairo University and going out with a gal named Dorothiyya Smitheriyya, an American convert to Islam who had struck roots in the West Bank town of Diarrhiyya. Dorothiyya still chewed bubble gum but had also learned how to ululate and prepare a suicide belt. It was because of Dorothiyya that Walid had turned to freedom fighting. She'd kept after him from morning till night and consequently he'd failed his midterm exams and gotten booted out of the university. After that, it was all downhill for Walid, mostly on his skateboard. He'd lost his arms in Tel Aviv and his legs in Jerusalem. An accident in the bomb lab had done the rest. Dorothiyya put on a brave face but had to avail herself of Mustafa's rocket launcher to get satisfaction. Walid's plastic organs had to be flushed out once a month. This was less complicated than it seemed, as all the doctors at Al-Shifa had to do was disenable him for a while and get a volunteer to suck out the slime. After the slime was sucked out the organs were disinfected with Zam Zam Cola and Walid was as good as new. His skateboard only had to be serviced once a year.
The teenage Israeli settlers, Noam and Baruch, opened a gift shop next to the toilet where you could rent Arabs from Hebron to serve as inanimate objects in and around the house - doormats, ashtrays, bookends (from a selection of leading Palestinian intellectuals), scarecrows, and sitting ducks for the firing range. They guaranteed one-day shipping by helicopter drop and did a brisk business among the sheikhs but the Peace Now types lodged a complaint with the Egyptian licensing authorities and they were immediately shut down. After that they got a hold of a wad of Dorothiyya's bubble gum and stopped up the wheels of Walid's skateboard, causing it to spin out of control and crash into a palm tree, leaving Walid dazed but fortunately unhurt. Everyone understood that the Zionists were behind this latest incident.
Tom the journalist got an exclusive interview with Gaddafi but Gaddafi wasn't saying much in his Harpo mode. When Tom asked him what kind of future he foresaw for freedom fighting he pulled a small nuclear device out of his robe and made a whistling sound, after which he blew his horn. Tom grinned and nodded as he usually did when talking to freedom fighters but Gaddafi had said all he was going to say for one day about the future of the world.
The Peace Now types tried to sneak into the Four Seasons for the free buffet. The maitre d' blocked their way with a burning tire. The stench was overwhelming. Egyptian Special Forces rushed in with tear gas and truncheons to restore order. A compromise was worked out allowing the Israelis to have their free lunch in exchange for East Jerusalem. The Israelis agreed after a brief consultation, lining up at the buffet table with their mouths watering. Noam and Baruch, the fun-loving teenage settlers, put hot pepper into everyone's food and sold half-liter bottles of gasoline disguised as Sprite to wash it down. Many came down with ptomaine poisoning and others were blown to smithereens when they tried to heat up their hookahs. It was clear that the Zionists had struck again.
Rona the girlfriend and Carl's tennis-playing wife, Federica Bagaloni, ranked twelfth in the world in her prime, decided to get into the spirit of things and play a little trick on their Egyptian hosts, boobytrapping the lobby of the Four Seasons. Unfortunately they forgot to tell Carl, so when the charge went off he was standing at the reception desk flirting with one of the receptionists and got a piece of shrapnel lodged in his backside. About ten people were killed. Rona and Federica couldn't stop laughing.
The unexpected carnage at what was after all a convocation of like-minded freedom fighters made it necessary to call in elite units from the U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur, where it had managed to keep the death toll well below the half-million mark in one of its most spectacular operations. A resolution censuring Israeli aggression was also passed by the U.N. General Assembly. Subsequently, in an especially bold move, U.K. professors boycotted their Israeli counterparts, and the next day, using the same logic, boycotted themselves. This created a severe crisis in the British universities, where teachers were seen berating themselves in the corridors for the sins of their government and demonstratively leaving classrooms the moment they noticed themselves there.
Once it became known that there were dead bodies all over the place Fox News interrupted its regular programming for "live" coverage of the body counts and interviews with relatives of the victims. It was generally agreed that no one was better at finding bodies than Fox News. Wherever there was a fresh body Fox News would be sure to find it and splatter it across the screen. If the big screen was occupied for the moment the Fox team would stack it temporarily in one of its smaller screens. Women with long, bare legs brought viewers regular updates. Carl showed one of them his backside and two proctologists, a Republican and a Democrat, analyzed his wound.
The Fox reporters also lined up to interview Walid, "embedding" their long, bare legs in his skateboard so that he couldn't go anywhere and making it very clear that his was not the kind of freedom fighting they approved of, preferring the Iraq variety, which produced many more bodies in much less time. Unlike Tom, they did not hesitate to ask the tough questions or shout Walid down. Dorothiyya came over and gave them a piece of her mind. Walid kept croaking away in Palestinian Arabic. The Fox people didn't have the slightest idea what he was talking about. One of them kept saying, "We report, you decide."
Though relations between Dorothiyya and Walid had cooled since his latest laboratory mishap had reduced him to his current minuscule and nonfunctional size, she still bore him much affection. It was not generally known that she had also borne him twin girls after protracted labor, Suwa and Jora, now aged four and six, respectively. They were currently attending an exclusive girls' school in Connecticut run by a Miss Dalyrimple. Dorothiyya had about a hundred million dollars stashed away, thinking of herself as the custodian of Palestinian wealth now that Walid was incapacitated and unable to manage their joint bank account. She paid Miss Dalyrimple out of it, as well as Mustafa, and occasionally downloaded the tops in pops on her iPod.
The keynote speech at the opening session was delivered by Jimmy the president, who stated unequivocally that he abhorred violence and therefore had chosen to grace the freedom fighters convention instead of visiting Israel. He too extended his greetings to freedom fighters everywhere, singling out for special mention the representatives of Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Palestine Liberation Front, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the al-Aqsa Brigade, the Tanzim, and Hizbollah. After the speeches some Arab Mickey Mouse Kill the Jews cartoons were shown. Jimmy couldn't stop laughing though he didn't understand a word of it.
Noam and Baruch, the merry pranksters, got into Walid and Mustafa's room and hooked up the toilet to the shower head. However, as neither Walid nor Mustafa was in the habit of showering it was Dorothiyya who got a mouthful when she decided to freshen up after a session with Mustafa's rocket launcher. Naturally she called the front desk to complain and someone named Bruce from Maintenance came right up, immediately recognizing the handiwork of the two Zionists. Dorothiyya vowed to get even with them.
With so much bad blood at the Convention it was thought advisable to organize a sulha. Everyone came except Noam and Baruch. Rona and Federica were gently reprimanded by Jimmy the president for killing ten people and filling Carl's backside with shrapnel. They pretended to be repentant but could hardly keep a straight face. Tom the journalist nodded and grinned, more as a reflex action, as he wasn't interviewing anyone at the moment. One of the British professors on the scene told a BBC reporter that they were extending their boycott to Israeli spot welders.
The Peace Now types organized a cookout on the beach. The National Liberation Front of Boboland organized a shootout at the Sharm Sheraton. No one came to the cookout, though Walid came down to the beach for a few minutes to visit with the Israelis and have a hamburger. Noam and Baruch stole his skateboard. Mustafa let fly a Qassam rocket as the two settlers raced down the beach but it missed its mark and knocked down the Sharm Hilton. This brought all the freedom fighters out of the Sheraton screaming wildly and waving their submachineguns in the air. In the ensuing confusion two hotel workers resembling Menachem Begin were lynched. Jimmy the president gently remonstrated with the guilty parties. On the other hand, he strongly condemned Noam and Baruch for stealing Walid's skateboard.
Dorothiyya observed all this and plotted her revenge. She thought first to infiltrate the Zionist camp and wreak havoc there. However, as there were only two Zionists present, she realized that this might prove difficult, so after consulting with Rona and Federica she devised an ingenious plan to turn the tables on the Zionists. The three women rented a cabana and scrawled the words "Jewish Property" all over it. They then demonstratively made a show of taking possession of it and engaging in various forms of Arab ribaldry and hijinks, such as firing weapons into the air and burning effigies of various Zionist leaders as well as executing a few Jewish-looking busboys. Noam and Baruch took up a position in the dunes and bided their time.
Mustafa found Walid's skateboard half-buried in the sand and hooked him up again. Walid croaked that he was having trouble urinating. Mustafa opened the steamship trunk and found a wad of bubble gum embedded in his plastic kidney. It didn't take him too long to figure out who was responsible. He even wondered now if Dorothiyya might not be acting in collusion with the Zionists, that is, supplying them with the bubble gum. She had in fact defied a recent fatwa enjoining her to stop her chewing, though you could hardly see her jaws moving now.
Fox News got wind of the "Jewish cabana" incident and alerted its news team to stand by for a fresh harvest of bodies. The Peace Now types rolled out of their sleeping bags at dawn. Though many could hardly move after stuffing themselves with hamburgers all night they managed to crawl toward the "Jewish cabana" as a sign of solidarity with their freedom fighting brothers and sisters. Dorothiyya, Rona and Federica had now been joined by dozens of Boboland fighters who vandalized the cabana until told by Dorothiyya that it wasn't Jewish after all and was merely being used as a ploy to trap the fun-loving teenage Zionist settlers.
Carl got his backside repaired and sat at the pool with a fat Red Crescent nurse who had been assigned to look after him. She told him her name was Shwarmariyya Bassariyya and that she came from the Delta, where her father had sold koftah and mouloukhia in the family restaurant until keeling over with a massive coronary, probably caused by the Zionists. Now she was on her own and doing her best to support the family. It was a moving story and Carl's heart went out to the girl. He had a good mind to dump Federica and her butterball baby, and Rona as well, and make a play for her. He could see them sharing a cozy flat in Cairo and instead of running around the world fighting for freedom doing what he loved best, which was tuning automobile engines.
Shwarmariyya didn't encourage him. Living like an Arab was no laughing matter, though it was harder for the women, who had to learn how to ululate and scratch their faces when they were upset, while the men only had to go off and blow themselves up. Otherwise they pretty much had to live in filth and eat with their hands while their leaders divided up their wealth and cursed the Zionists.
Noam and Baruch planned a diversion. They made their way back to the gift shop and defrosted one of the Arabs they had been keeping on ice for a Kuwaiti sheikh who had ordered a set of hammers. When the dazed Palestinian had recovered sufficiently they told him to go to the "Jewish cabana" and start shouting, "Free figs at the suq! Free figs at the suq! Get them while they last!" Sure enough, the ploy worked and all the freedom fighters went racing off to the market, including their unwitting messenger who wasn't going to hang around while free figs were being handed out. Noam and Baruch then occupied the empty cabana and barricaded the entrance. The Peace Now types finally arrived and, understanding what had transpired, promptly alerted the U.N. and Egyptian troops in the area. The freedom fighters returned empty-handed and in a bad mood and took up positions around the cabana. Tom the journalist, the BBC man and the Fox team put on their flak jackets. Jimmy the president condemned the settlers and praised the freedom fighters for their restraint. The British professor announced that he and his colleagues were boycotting Israeli pretzel manufacturers.
Mustafa caught up with Dorothiyya and asked her to account for her bubble gum supply. Dorothiyya stammered a little but managed to convince him that she'd been distributing bubble gum to Palestinian orphans. Walid rolled over and said, "I can vouch for that." Dorothiyya was grateful for Walid's "white lie," which proved that he was still carrying the torch for her and that they might have a future together after all, as long as Dorothiyya kept on signing the checks. The truth was, she'd been selling the bubble gum on the black market and it was not inconceivable that the Zionists had gotten a hold of some. She blew Walid a kiss. Mustafa could only scratch his head.
Gaddafi came out from behind a palm tree when no one was looking and quietly laid down his nuclear device beside the "Jewish cabana," then tiptoed away in the direction of the Russian trawler waiting for him in the Gulf of Aqaba. As the trawler began to make its way down the Red Sea, his eyes lit up and a manic look spread over his face. Then he threw his fright wig into the air, let out a dive-bombing whistle and blew his horn one last time.