Friday, August 29, 2008

America the Affable

America the Affable nation is a large, loud, red-faced man of 350 lbs, his Applebee's/Ben-and-Jerry's/McDonald's girth straining against the front of his XXXL Polo shirt, torturing the belt that holds up his khaki pants. He stands at a bar buying drinks for other nations: England, Estonia, Italy, Australia . . . once in a while, Canada cadges a drink. All America wants is to be liked, so he tells jokes:

"You know how you can tell an elephant's been in your fridge?"

Kyrgastan, Turkey and Morocco shake their heads.

"You'll find his footprints in the butter!" America bellows laughter, casting a needy eye at his audience. Seeing their fun flagging for even an instant, America pulls out his gold card again and orders another round of drinks. Except, the bartender comes back and whispers to America that the card has exceeded its limit. Pained, smiling to hide his confusion and embarrassment, America turns to China, sitting far off to the side, and gets a new gold card from him. The bartender gives it a try and its credit limit is good to go -- more drinks are had by all.

Amid the drinking, in between the jokes, America gets serious, speaking about the lone gunman who killed his beloved president, John F. Kennedy, in November 1963. The other nations share glances; a few roll their eyes, silently saying, "Whatever you say!" knowing full well that that the CIA assassinated President Kennedy. So, America bellows another joke: "You know, I wouldn't want to join any club that would have me as a member!" A few of the English speaking nations chuckle, more out of a desire for another drink.

"You know, that 9/11 and those goddamned terrorists," America says in a serious moment. "Diabolical, how those 19 hijackers managed to outwit NORAD!" Canada, England, Germany and France exchange looks, as if to say, "Yeah, right!"

American continues: "The world's a better place without that asshole, Saddam Hussein."

Estonia raises a glass to that.

"All we want to do is bring freedom to the middle east," America says. "Is that so bad?" Tadzykistan would have replied, "No," if he understood what was being said. The countries who do speak English put down their drinks and make their move to get away from America. But America -- affable, if nothing else -- senses his duties as host are momentarily neglected, and promptly orders another round and a pile of appetizers. Who can pass up free drinks and cheese-and-garlic snazzers? No one.

"I've got nothing to hide," America says, his speech slurred by his eighth or ninth Harvey Wallbanger. "So, if the guv'ment's gotta listen to my phone calls or read my mail, I don't care. If it catches even one terrorist, it's worth it!" Belgium finishes his drink and slips away.

"The terrorists are using our freedoms against us!" America says, pounding the bar with his hand. "They hate our freedom, but they use it against us. So, the guv'ment wants to take away some freedom. I say, great! Take it! Cuz, who the hell knows where the next attack's gonna come from?" Canada finishes his drink, but is too ineffectual to leave the bar. Canada stands there, a patient, distracted, quietly disagreeing audience.

"So, if we gotta bomb I-ran," America goes on, "and all its friends and network, then we'll do it! Cuz, it's about freedom, and . . . and . . ."

"Democrazy," Kyrgyzstan offers in broken English, clacking the ice in his empty glass, hoping for another free drink.

"Yes!" America says. "It's about democracy! And if people have the chance to vote, they'll vote for freedom, just like we do in the U.S. of A!"

England and Italy, France and Germany have finished their free drinks. So have Poland and Sweden and Iceland and Denmark. The moment they set their empty glasses on the bar, America senses their desire to leave. Switzerland consults his wrist watch. Germany clears his throat and edges away. The group moves for the door.

"Wait!" America shouts. "We've still got chicken wings and potato skins coming! You can't leave now!"

The nations claim other responsibilities require attention.

"Ah, hell!" America says. He looks at Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, whose drinks -- for some reason -- were never mixed properly by the bartender; they had spent the evening sending drinks back, arguing with the bartender, demanding their drinks be made as ordered.

"But who the hell mixes cranberry juice with Jim Beam?" the bartender says, exasperated.

"Hey," America says, "freedom's all about getting what you want, when you want it. Ever hear that the customer is always right?"

"Sure," the bartender says, "but I'm not going to mix drinks in my bar that'll make people sick."

"If they wanna be sick," America says, "they have the freedom to be sick!"

"Not in my bar!" the bartender says.

"What kinda business are you running here?" America demands.

Having imbibed too many gin-and-tonics -- which the bartender gave him, instead of pineapple juice and sambuca -- Afghanistan punches Pakistan in the face.

"Hang on a second!" the bartender shouts. "There'll be no fighting in here!"

Pakistan grabs Afghanistan by the shirt and head-butts him in the face, breaking his nose. The bartender jumps over the bar and wields a baseball bat. As he tries to break up the fight, Iraq drinks his nineteenth Bloody Caesar. He'd been ordering drinks in a mumbling, heavily accented voice all night; the only word the bartender understood was "blood." He was partially correct -- Iraq was ordering blood and apple juice; the bartender gave him Bloody Caesars.

Iraq grabs a handful of peanuts from a dish on the bar. As he chews them, one slips down his throat, causing him to choke. Amid his choking, he proceeds to puke up the last eighteen Bloody Caesars America bought him. America stands away from the fracas between Pakistan and Afghanistan, looking at Iraq, seeing $223 in drinks vomited down his shirt and pants, the bar and floor. All of the other nations take this opportunity to exit the bar.

The bartender manages to separate Pakistan and Afghanistan, sending each on his wounded way. After surveying the hopeless mess that Iraq made, the bartender goes back around the bar and cashes out America. The bartender slides the gold card through the credit card machine, but with the huge, uneaten orders of chicken wings and potato skins and jalapeno snappers and blooming onion and nachos-with-five-cheeses and pizza poppers and garlic jabbers and grease grabbers, bacon sliders and cheese slammers, along with all of the drinks, has exceeded the gold card's limit. The bartender discreetly advises America about this.

America, red-faced and with no laughter left, goes back to China, who sits off to the side. China hasn't ordered a thing all night. They exchange a few words and China hands America another gold card. America returns to the bar and pays his tab. Turkey, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Tasmania linger with hopeful expressions, trying for more free drinks by sheer force of silent will. America looks at them and begins to tell a joke, "A priest, a rabbi and a minister go into a bar . . ." Turkey, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Tasmania turn and leave.

Alone at the bar with a drink's receipt long enough to wrap around his immense waist, America picks at the appetizers laid out before him like a redneck wedding banquet. He's in the middle of quaffing one of the potato skins when China approaches. "We leave now," China says in three, militaristic syllables.

"But looka all this food," America says. "There's kids starving in Chin -- in India. I can't leave all this!"

"We leave now!" China says.

America shoves some pepper snazzers and pizza bloaters into his pockets, jams a handful of nachos into his mouth and follows China out of the bar. Outside, China climbs into the back of a rickshaw. "We go!" China barks. America, still chewing his last handful of nachos, lumbers to the front of the rickshaw, bends down and picks up the two pulling handles. He grunts with the effort; feels his drinks and masticated food welling in his throat.

"We go!" China barks.

America starts down the road, pulling the rickshaw, winded after half a dozen steps.


America swallows the last of the nachos. His ulcer pokes at him from the inside-out.

As he passes a gaggle of pretty girls in halters and mini skirts walking down the sidewalk, America sucks in his gut and picks up the pace. He can't wait to get home to his hovel, to his pain relievers and heated pads, to his ointments and analgesics -- to all the remedies that are scientifically tested and government approved to make him feel better.

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