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Who Wants to Be an American/1

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Chapter One: Contestant SelectionEdit

"I hate Americans," the Iraqi man said. "I want to shoot Americans."nnnn

Cheryl Anderson tried not to take the man's statement personally. She looked to her co-host, Roger Smarmy.

"Great!" Roger said. "That's what we like to hear!"

The Iraqi man's expression changed from belligerence to confusion. But Roger didn't notice. He'd moved on to the next man in the line.

Hundreds of Iraqis queued in this old Baghdad theater. On stage, under glaring lights, Roger and Cheryl hosted the first episode in the new reality television series, Who Wants To Be An American? Every contestant had gone through three airport-grade security checks, and hundreds of American soldiers guarded the theater, but Cheryl felt nervous.

"And how do you feel about the United States?" Roger asks the second Iraqi man.

"I want to blow up American buildings!" the second Iraqi man proclaimed.

Cheryl was proud of her ability to improvise friendly chatter in front of television cameras, but she couldn't think of anything to say to this proto-terrorist.

She didn't have to say anything. A young Iraqi man ran through the theater, American soldiers chasing him. "Rip out all American hearts and feed them to dogs!" he yelled.

The young man leapt onto the stage and shoved his way in front of the camera. His face glistened with perspiration. He's foaming at the mouth, Cheryl thought to herself, horrified. On his shirt he wore, like all the other contestants, a stick-on tag printed "HELLO MY NAME IS" and then handwritten "FARIQ."

"Kill Americans! Kill! Kill! Kill!" Fariq yelled. The crowd yelled "Down with America! Long live Saddam Hussein!"

"I think we've found our winner!" Roger exclaimed, with the same enthusiasm that had gotten him started in television, on a children's game show in St. Louis, decades before.

Cheryl now knew what to say. She'd memorized her lines on the long flight from Los Angeles to Baghdad. "Fariq has won an all-expense-paid trip to beautiful southern California, where he'll live in the lovely Cannon Meadows Gated Community," Cheryl said, and held up a photo of a condo.

Fariq grabbed the photo and ripped it to shreds.

"...and Fariq will drive a brand-new Ford Explorer, courtesy of Bob's Friendly Ford-Toyota-Lexus of Orange County," Cheryl continued, and held up another photo.

Fariq grabbed the car photo, chewed it up and spat it out in small pieces.

"Is he trying to say that the Ford Explorer is a lemon?" Roger joked lamely. Roger was as famous for his ad lib bad jokes as Cheryl was for her grace and charm.

"...plus an unlimited First National Bank Visa card!" Cheryl finished.

Fariq had Roger in a headlock. The young man tried to smash the game show host's head into the camera lens. Cheryl shrieked as the camera was knocked to the side. The last thing viewers heard was Cheryl screaming off-camera, "Dear God, no!"


Chapter Two: Arriving In The United StatesEdit

The next episode was taped at the Los Angeles International Airport. Roger and Cheryl stood next to a customs officer. Roger wore a cast on one arm.

"We were going to hold similar contests in Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, North Korea, and Cuba," Cheryl said to the camera.

"...but we decided to leave selection of those contestants up to local affiliate stations," Roger finished, with a little wave of his broken arm.

Behind them, through a plate-glass window, a decrepit Russian propeller-driven airliner taxied to the gate, oil smoke spewing from its four engines.

"We're waiting to meet our first two arriving contestants," Cheryl said, and continued, "Boris and Natasha are from Russia."

"With love!" Roger joked lamely.

"And here they are now!" Cheryl said brightly.

A small, thin woman and a mousey-looking man entered from the gate. Both wore threadbare gray suits, decades out of date. The woman's hair was pulled back severely and she wore no make-up.

"What is the purpose of your visit to the United States?" the customs officer asked.

"We are spies," Natasha said.

"Here to steal military and industrial secrets," Boris added.

Roger cut in. "They're actors! Great performance, guys!"

"Actors?" the customs officer asked.

Cheryl quickly moved to Roger's side. "They're here to star in the new television game show, Who Wants To Be An American?" Cheryl explained.

"Well, their visas are in order..." the customs officer said, and stamped the passports.

--

An hour later, a small, thin North Korean man arrived.

"What is the purpose of your visit to the United States?" the customs officer asked.

"I am here to steal plutonium for North Korea to make nuclear bombs," Kim, the North Korean man, says.

"He's an actor!" Cheryl cuts in.

--

Some time later, Cheryl and Roger waited at another airline gate, in front of the logo "Mid-East Express."

A dark, Middle-Eastern man and a woman covered head-to-toe in a burka walked up the ramp.

"What is the purpose of your visit to the United States?" the customs officer asked.

"We are going to hijack Bill Gates's LearJet and crash it into the Microsoft headquarters," Jalal, the man, said.

The customs officer enthusiastically stamped their passports and said, "Enjoy your visit to the United States!"

"Say, did Mid-East Express bake chocolate chip falafels on the plane?" Roger joked lamely.

No one laughed. Then Fatima, the woman in the burka, started to laugh. Then she doubled over in laughter. She laughs like that was the funniest thing she's ever heard, Cheryl thought.

--

Still later, a Cuban man and woman approached a female customs officer. Both wore army fatigues. The woman, named Maria, was voluptuous. The man, named José, was also gorgeous, with long, sexy black hair and a sexy beard.

"What is the purpose of your visit to the United States?" the customs officer asked.

"To drive the spirit of Che into the heart of the North American beast!" Jose said.

But the customs officer wasn't listening to anything but the song of Cupid. She couldn't take her eyes off José. She handed him her telephone number and whispered something in his ear.

Chapter Three: The CondosEdit

Roger and Cheryl stood in front of a row of townhouses, in a Southern California gated community.

"Let's meet our ten contestants," Roger said to the camera.

"I can't wait to see what they've done with their beautiful new condos!" Cheryl finished.

Roger and Cheryl entered a condo. It was decorated with African art and posters of Louis Farrakhan. Nyamekye sat in a big wicker chair, holding a spear in one hand and a rifle in his other hand. He wore a black leather coat with a bandoleer of rifle shells, and a black beret on his head.

"Beautiful decoration," Cheryl said.

"But no vines," Roger joked lamely. Cheryl almost couldn't believe Roger's crassness, but then she'd worked with him for years and knew his poor taste.

Nyamekye glared at Roger. He raised the spear.

"You know, for swinging," Roger joked lamely. He's going too far, Cheryl thought.

Roger started to vocalize a Tarzan call. Cheryl elbowed Roger in the gut, just below what viewers would see on their television screens. Roger grunted and doubled over in pain. The camera operator quickly panned Roger out of frame.

"Nyamekye, we understand that you're from Detroit, and that you're a follower of Louis Farrakhan. Can you tell us more about your beliefs?" Cheryl asked.

"I work every day to bring closer the overthrow of the American government, and the enslavement of the white race, and collapse of this so-called civilization," Nyamekye said.

"What makes you think that American civilization is close to collapse?" Cheryl asked.

"Television shows like this one," Nyamekye said.

--

The next scene was in another condo. Boxes, opened and unopened, were strewn across the floor, along with coolers and waterproof storage boxes. A blue tarpaulin covered something large in the living room. A couch was outside on the balcony.

The kitchen was a mess. Cheryl was shocked to find that Melissa, the new resident, was butchering a deer. A small television on a counter was tuned to a televangelist.

"Have you gotten comfortable in your new home?" Cheryl asked.

"Yes, ma'am," Melissa answered, in an Appalachian accent.

"Did you shoot that yourself?" Roger asked.

"No, hit by a car," Melissa said.

"You hit him with your car?" Roger asked.

"She. And she was pregnant. Wanna look? Cute little twin fawns, maybe I'll make a tobacco pouch from their skins," Melissa said.

"You hit her with your car?" Cheryl asked, repeating Roger's question.

"No, I found her on the roadside. But she was fresh, not more than a day or two old. Want some venison stew?" Melissa asks.

"Ah, no..." Cheryl said, and felt nauseous.

"What, are you a Jew or something?" Melissa asked. Cheryl again felt herself in the unfamiliar territory of not knowing what to say.

But Roger always could fill dead air and keep a conversation going. "Can you tell us more about yourself?" he asked Melissa.

"Well, I'm a member of Church of Jesus Christ of Aryan Nations. We're working to overthrow the government of United States and put black people back in slavery," Melissa said.

This rang a bell in Cheryl's memory of recent conversations. "Have you met your neighbor across the way?" Roger asked, and Cheryl remembered Nyamekye.

"Last night I called security and told them I seen a jigaboo breaking into someone's house," Melissa said. She glared at Roger and continued, "They said that the damn buckwheat lived there! I thought that the purpose of a gated community was to keep out the [bleep]!"

--

The next condo was empty, down to the floorboards. A pile of wood was neatly stacked next to the stove. Fatima stood in her burka on the floor when Roger and Cheryl entered the room, but didn't speak until Cheryl spoke to her.

"We can get you furniture," Cheryl said.

"I don't need much," Fatima said.

"But where do you sleep?" Cheryl said.

Fatima pointed to a pile of straw in the corner. "In Afghanistan, the women sleep with the dogs," she said.

Cheryl looked in the closet, and found only another burka.

"You can fix up this place," Cheryl said.

Fatima opened the back door and invited Cheryl and Roger out to her small back yard, just brown dirt. "I will plant potatoes," she said.

"If word leeks out you'll have to chard them with your neighbors!" Roger joked lamely.

To Cheryl astonishment, Fatima doubled over in laughter.

Chapter Four: The RestaurantEdit

Cheryl and Roger stood in front of the video camera, in a buffet-style restaurant.

"We're here at the Happy Piggy Family Restaurant for our contestants' first meal together. Let's see what our foreign guests think of American cuisine," Roger said to the camera.

In the background, a waiter tried to hit on Maria. Two waitresses gave their telephone numbers to Jose.

The Muslims were walking around the buffet table with Melissa, pointing at meats. When they pointed at pork, she scrunched up her face and made hog noises. When they pointed at beef she made cow noises, and when they pointed at chicken she squawked and flapped around like a hen.

Cheryl noticed that she didn't make many cow or chicken sounds. Almost all the meat was pork.

"When I buy a gun, I come here and shoot every American eating 'oink, oink'!" Fariq said.

Jalal said something to Fariq, but laughter from a child's birthday party at a large table drowned out Jalal's words. Fariq threw a punch at Jalal. Luckily, Cheryl had had the foresight to hire two bouncers for the video shoot. The big men pulled apart Fariq and Jalal.

"Boys, you're not supposed to fight. Iraq and Iran are on the same side, remember?" Roger said.

Jalal and Fariq looked at Roger in amazement.

"Two million Iraqis and Iranians killed each other in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s," Cheryl whispers to Roger.

"Oh," Roger said. "Hey, I know a song you'd like. It's about Fatima's home country, Afghanistan," Roger said. Cheryl braced herself for something awful. She wasn't disappointed.

Roger sang and danced, to the tune of "The Banana Boat Song," by Harry Mancini.

"Come, Mister Taliban, give us bin Laden.
Daylight come, and we bomb your home.
Six bombs, seven bombs, eight bombs, drop.
Daylight come, and we bomb your home..."

Only Fatima laughed. "She loves it! Everyone dance calypso!" Roger said, and reached for Fatima's hand.

"The Koran forbids men to dance with women!" Fariq said. Fariq and Jalal jumped on Roger.

Cheryl thought she saw the bouncers hesitate a second or two before pulling the men off Roger.

--

The contestants sat around a big table. Technicians had set up video cameras and microphones to get all the conversations on tape. Cheryl stood next to the audio control board and plugged in her headphones to listen to each conversation.

Fariq and Natasha were sitting next to each other.

"Tomorrow I will buy a gun. Then I will kill many Americans," Fariq said.

"That's stupid. You won't kill more than a dozen Americans," Natasha said.

"You called me 'stupid'? Russians are stupid!" Fariq said, angrily.

"I have a masters degree in chemical engineering and a Ph.D. in political science," Natasha said.

"Bah!" Fariq said, waving his hand. "Look at Chechnya. A handful of Moslem freedom fighters have the entire Russian army running away like babies!"

"I worked for the KGB for ten years developing better ways to kill Americans," Natasha said.

Fariq's expression changed to intense interest. "What ways to kill Americans?"

"I could give you a list of items you can buy at Home Depot. You could make poisons to dump in reservoirs. That would kill thousands of Americans. I could show you how to build a truck bomb one hundred times more powerful than the bomb that blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City," Natasha said.

"Give me this list. What do I buy?" Fariq said.

--

Cheryl plugged her headphones in to hear Nyamekye and Jalal deep in a conversation.

"You've been to Mecca?" Nyamekye asked.

"Yes, I made a pilgrimage to Mecca," Jalal said.

"That is my dream. Every devout Muslim dreams of visiting the holy city," Nyamekye said.

"The Koran says, in book 12, chapter 4, verse 28-" Jalal said.

"Thereupon his Lord accepted his prayer and turned away their guile from him; surely He is the Hearing, the Knowing," Nyamekye said.

"You've memorized the Koran!" Jalal said, astonished.

"Not all of it," Nyamekye said modestly.

Chapter Five: ShoppingEdit

"For their first full day in America, we're taking our contestants shopping! We're turning them loose with unlimited credit cards on my favorite shopping street-Rodeo Drive!" Cheryl said to the video camera. She beamed with genuine pleasure. She loved shopping on this exclusive Beverly Hills street.

"Our cameras will just tag along and see what they buy," Roger said.

Fariq approached Roger, holding a long shopping list.

"Excuse me, where is Home Depot?" Fariq asked.

"There's one on Fairfax. Second exit off the 405," Roger said.

--

A video crew followed Maria into a shoe store. She tried on a pair of sturdy brown Frye boots, vintage 1978. She stood up proudly.

"I am a strong, independent woman. I will start a feminist magazine. We will fight for women's rights to work," Maria said.

"Nice, but 25 years out of style," the sales clerk said.

Maria pulled off the Frye boots and tried on a pair of black platform boots. Again she stood up proudly.

"I am a strong, independent woman. I will start a feminist website. We will fight for women's rights to work less," Maria said.

"That's the style now," the sales clerk said.

--

A video crew taped Boris in a men's clothing store. He systematically tried on every item in the store. Then after trying on each pin stripe, herringbone, cotton twill, old school striped tie, contemporary titanium cufflink, cashmere sweater, alligator belt, chronograph watch, bi-fold card case wallet, bomber jacket, trench coat, silk pajamas, kimono robe, smoking jacket, mufflers, oxford, monk strap, wing-tip, tassel loafer, and beatle boot, Boris asked all three sales clerks for their opinions. The video crew was bored. But Cheryl was stunned and amazed when she edited the tapes later.

Cheryl took seven hours of Boris going in and out of the dressing room and edited it down to sixty seconds. In that abbreviated minute, the mousey bureaucrat in the Brezhnev-era suit became, piece by piece, James Bond.

--

Cheryl laughed when she saw the video from Abercrombie & Fitch.

Two college students held up extra-large sweatshirts while talking to the sales clerk.

"Don't you have anything bigger?" the first student said.

"Those are extra-large sweatshirts," the sales clerk said.

"Extra-large Abercrombie & Fitch sweatshirts were so ten minutes ago! We want extra-extra-large sweatshirts," the second student said.

"You know what would be totally cool? Extra-extra-extra-large sweatshirts!" the first student said.

"That would be so cool!" the second student said.

Then Fatima walked into the store, wearing her burka.

"That's so cool!" the first student said.

"That's just what we want. Except we want it to say 'Abercrombie & Fitch' all over it," the second student said.

"Where did you get it?" the first student said.

"I herded the sheep, I spun the wool," Fatima said.

"Huh?" the students said, shaking their heads in confusion.

"I can make burkas for you," Fatima said.

"Oh, yes, please!" the students said enthusiastically.

Fatima took a needle and thread from her purse, then put huge sweatshirts over the college students. She ripped and sewed, and soon the students were wearing burkas. The burkas are covered with Abercrombie & Fitch logos.

"Thank you so much!" the students said, somewhat muffled. They walked away, bumping into things.

Chapter Six: The Pilgrimage, The Bomb, And The VaseEdit

Roger and Cheryl did a taping in Nyamekye's condo. He was packing a suitcase.

"Are you going somewhere?" Roger asked.

"I must make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Jalal told me that this is the time in my life that I must go to the holy city and worship Mohammed," Nyamekye said.

"The contract says you can't leave the show," Cheryl said.

"No contract signed under duress is valid. My ancestors were brought to this country in slave ships under duress. Therefore no contract signed between black people and white people is valid," Nyamekye said.

"Hmm, we'd better have our attorneys take a look at that," Roger said.

"I'll be back in ten days," Nyamekye said.

--

The next taping was in Fariq's condo. The condo was filled with workbenches, metal shelves, machine tools, electronics equipment. Boxes and barrels were stacked to the ceiling, all with warning labels for explosives.

Fariq was working on a black box with wires coming out of it. As he worked, large red numbers counted down seconds and hundredths of a second. Each time the numbers almost got to zero, Fariq switched something and the numbers restarted their countdown.

"Got a home improvement project going?" Roger asked.

Fariq laughed maniacally. Natasha walked in.

"You idiot! The black wires go here, and the red wires go there!" Natasha said.

"Oh, yeah. Now it works," Fariq said.

"You would have blown up the entire building! I can't turn my back on you for ten minutes," Natasha said.

"Uh, are you planning something? Fourth of July fireworks, maybe?" Cheryl asked.

Fariq laughed maniacally again. "Natasha told me about the San Andreas Fault. Have you heard of it? Tomorrow-" he says.

"I did the calculations again. We need 50 times the explosives. This will take us another two weeks," Natasha said. Fariq looked disappointed.

"But all of California from San Diego to San Francisco will fall into the ocean!" Natasha continued. Fariq's face lit up with happiness and love.

--

The next scene was in Fatima's condo. It was still bare, but a beautiful vase sat on a small, elegant table. A lovely bouquet of flowers was in the vase.

"Fatima! This vase is beautiful!" Cheryl said.

"It is a hand-blown swirl glass vase, embellished with spirals of twisted glass on its beautiful base. A single, connecting strand adorns the top. The classic tapered shape is ideal for arranging a variety of flowers," Fatima said.

She sounds like Martha Stewart with a Pashto accent, Cheryl thought.

"The table is nice too," Roger said.

"It is inspired by an 18th-century Versailles table. It is crafted from solid mahogany, with heirloom-quality details such as dovetailed drawers, turned-wood knobs, and a diamond-shaped escutcheon around the keyhole. A hand-rubbed finish provides rich color and soft luster. It is perfect for an entryway or bedroom," Fatima said.

"Where did you find it?" Cheryl asked.

"I saw it in a shop window," Fatima said.

"What was the price?" Roger asked.

"I don't understand. Is he making another joke? I don't understand his jokes," Fatima said. She started laughing anyway.

"What did you pay for it?" Cheryl asked.

"The lady in the shop asked to see my plastic card, then she said I could have the beautiful table and the vase and the flowers," Fatima said.

Cheryl turned to the assistant producer, off-camera. "Call the bank and see what the charge was," she said.

"Well, it's certainly very tasteful," Roger said.

Cheryl's jaw dropped when she heard the assistant producer's response. She whispered to Roger, "$15,000. She paid $15,000."

Cheryl turned to hear the assistant producer say something else. She then turned back to Roger. "For the table. The vase was $60,000. But the flowers were free."

"We'll have to switch to the cheaper caterer for the crew," Roger whispered to Cheryl.

Fatima started laughing again.

Roger turned to Fatima and said, "You have beautiful taste, Fatima. But next time..."

Chapter Seven: DisneylandEdit

"We're here at Disneyland! What could be more American than Disneyland!" Cheryl said.

"Giant mice, plastic crocodiles, and a concrete mountain! I love Disneyland!" Roger said.

In the background, Fatima doubled over in laughter. Roger glanced back at her.

--

Fariq and Natasha sat together on the monorail train. Fariq mimiced shooting a sniper rifle at the crowds below. Natasha stopped him and gestured as if putting something under the Matterhorn, then made a big gesture for the Matterhorn exploding.

--

In New Orleans Square. Maria looked beautiful, surrounded by a small crowd of men. The camera panned to José, looking gorgeous, surrounded by a large crowd of women.

--

Melissa led contestants around Frontierland. They screamed on the runaway mine train. She pointed and explained Tom Sawyer Island. She won a competition with Fariq at the Shootin' Exposition. But her smile changed to a frown when Abraham Lincoln begins his Gettysburg Address.

"Ain't this the speech where he frees the sambos?" Melissa asked.

--

In Fantasyland, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, the Mad Hatter's spinning teacups, and Storybook Land mystified the foreigners.

--

In the Haunted House, a Goth young woman, led the tour group. She wore pale mascara, black lipstick, a tight black dress, and wore a ring in a pierced eyebrow.

Jalal stared at her. "What do you think of American women?" Roger asked him.

"American women are disgusting. Look what she does to herself. In Iran she would be flogged for dressing like that. The Ayatollah was right, Americans have devil hearts," Jalal said.

But he couldn't take his eyes off her.

Chapter Eight: A News Report, A Health Club, And A RallyEdit

"In other news, a young woman was abducted last night from Disneyland, where she worked in the Haunted House," Melissa's television set intoned. "Police say only that a young man who looked Middle-Eastern drove up to her in the cast parking lot, and pulled her into his black, late model sport-utility vehicle..."

"A terrible crime. Do you have much crime in Russia?" Cheryl asked Natasha.

"Capitalist criminals steal everything in Russia. It was better when we had communism," Natasha said.

"Back then, Russians didn't have anything to steal," Roger joked lamely.

Fatima doubled over in laughter. No one else laughed.

"What about you, Kim? Is there any crime in North Korea?" Cheryl asked.

"Not much. Criminals are executed and their body parts are sold to foreign hospitals for transplants," Kim said.

"That takes the heart of it!" Roger joked lamely. Only Fatima laughed.

"What's crime like in Iraq, Fariq?" Cheryl asks.

"You steal—Saddam Hussein cuts off your hand," Fariq said.

"I hate to imagine the punishment for public urination," Roger joked lamely. Only Fatima laughed.

"What about Cuba?" Cheryl asked.

"Cuba is a worker's paradise. We have no crime," Maria said.

"Hey, I know a Cuban joke," Roger said. "An old man comes home bloody and beaten. His wife asks what happened. The old man says, 'I waited three hours in line at the butcher's shop for our ration of meat. When I got to the head of the line, the butcher ran out of meat. I said, "I can't take this any more! Castro must go!" The secret police dragged me into an alley and beat me.' The old man's wife says, 'The situation is worse than I thought. The secret police have run out of bullets'," Roger finished.

No one laughed.

"Get it? In the old days, the secret police would have shot the man," Roger said.

No one laughed. Then Fatima doubled over in laughter.

"That leaves Iran-where's Jamal?" Cheryl asked.

"I haven't seen him all day," Maria said.

"He hasn't come out of his apartment," Boris says.

The camera zoomed out window, past a van delivering furniture to Fatima's condo, to Jamal's condo. The curtains were drawn.

--

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