McSweeney's founder teams up with playwright for a screenplay about a Yemeni-American cop in San Francisco.
Dave Eggers first heard of Wajahat Ali’s work when Ishmael Reed recommended Ali’s play, The Domestic Crusaders, to him. “I read it, loved it, and we published it at McSweeney’s,” says Eggers. “It was vivid and very funny and did a valuable thing by illuminating, with a wicked sense of humour, the lives of a big Pakistani-American family living in the shadow of 9/11. Wajahat and I met, and we worked on an HBO pilot together about a Yemeni-American cop in San Francisco; we thought the show was pretty good, but it didn’t get filmed. Wajahat needs to write a book. The world needs a book by Wajahat Ali.”
EXT. GO-GETTERS MARKET
As MJ is walking up to the store, he approaches THE GATE, a notorious drug-dealing mecca. It’s right next to the store, a high reddish fence with an array of holes and slots. You slip money through one of the holes in the fence, drugs come out through another hole.
As he’s approaching, a deal is concluding. The buyer, too dumb to know MJ, walks shakily away. MJ lets it slide. MJ passes, and then, in front of the market, he’s stopped by an African-American man in a black suit. This is MUHAMMAD, a member of the Nation of Islam. He’s got a stack of leaflets in his hand, and three other members from the NOI beside him protesting.
MUHAMMAD: (sniffing the air) You smell that?
(NOI BROTHERS also smelling)
Mmmm, something smells nasty.
Know what it is?
MJ: Let me guess. Ba-
MJ: Ha ha. Never gets old, Brother Muhammad.
MUHAMMAD: Brother Mujaddid. Here’s one for you.
He hands him one of the flyers – the usual protest leaflet advocating boycotting the liquor stores run by Muslims.
MJ: You gave me one last week, and the week before –
MUHAMMAD: And next week, and the week after that, until your father does the right thing.
MJ: (playfully) Don’t you have to work, man?
MUHAMMAD: I am, right here, right now, working – for the sake of Allah.
MJ: Of course. Allah has you passing out leaflets.
MUHAMMAD: And how about you? One Alghazaly sells the devil’s piss and makes the brothers lose their minds, and the other comes along and locks them up. Mmm mmm mmm beautiful. You Yemenis – gotta hand it to you – it’s a tidy racket.
MJ: Assalam Alikum, Brother Muhammad.
MUHAMMAD: Walaikum Assalam, Brother Mujaddid.
INT. GO-GETTERS MARKET
MJ enters. There’s a bling-heavy guy at the front counter. When the door jangles open, he turns quickly and when he sees MJ, he lowers his eyes and quickly leaves.
The man behind the counter is MO, a Yemeni-American, about twenty-five, wearing a new baseball hat, the hologram sticker still on the bill. Gold chains. He puts on a big smile, papering over whatever transaction just happened.
MO: (in Arabic to MJ) Hey dumbass.
MJ: (in Arabic) Says the guy working at the liquor store in East Oakland.
(They shake hands across the counter)
Friend of yours?
MO: Just a valued customer.
They look at each other for a long moment. MJ could make trouble, but he decides to let it sit for now.
MJ: When’d you get in town?
MO: Two weeks ago.
MJ: Pop’s already got you working?
MO: (switching to English) Always working, man, always working. The hustle, you know.
MJ: Hey, if you talk to the dealers next door, can you tell them to tone it down a bit? It looks like Amsterdam out there. They ever bust anyone there?
MO shrugs, laughs.
Another guy, about twenty-four, comes out from the back with a stack of sodas. This is KHALEEF. He’s skinnier than MO, and less inclined toward the hip-hop life. He’s wearing a loose button-down shirt.
MJ (CONT’D): Hey.
KHALEEF: (realising who it is) I see a ghost.
They do a one-shoulder embrace.
MJ: I thought you were in school.
MJ: You said you were gonna do law.
KHALEEF: (laughing) Yeah, yeah. Well, I’m tryin to take some classes at the local –
MO slaps KHALEEF upside the head.
MO: (to MJ) Ey, stop puttin stupid ideas in his head. We need him here. Even though he sucks as a guard.
KHALEEF: You know, I don’t even want to do this stupid shit. I want –
MO slaps him upside the head again.
MO: Yeah, I want a blow job and a lollipop, but you don’t see me whining! Now just do the job and keep your eyes on the abd (this is a derogatory word in Arabic for the black customer in the store). Jesus, Mujaddid, look at what the fuck you did – one of us goes to college, and every one now thinks they can be Einstein.
MJ: You look like Einstein at least.
MO: Whatever, man. At least I ain’t no Rent-a-Cop!
MO slaps skin with KHALEEF.
MJ: See this? (Shows him his SFPD badge)
MO: Yeah, it says, “SUCKAS FRONTING AS A POLICE DEPARTMENT.”
KHALEEF: With Mo on this one, MJ. If you were Oakland PD, then you’d be a real cop dealing with real shit.
MO: You’d be cracking heads and killing innocent fools on BART.
MJ: Yeah, yeah, just give me some flour, gotta bring it home.
MO: What you think this is, a grocery store?
MJ finds some flour. MO is surprised.
MO (CONT’D): That stuff’s probably five years old. I keep telling your pops to update the inventory, but you know him and money. No disrespect. (calling out to a man on the other side of the store) Hey, you window shopping or you buying? This isn’t the mall.
The man puts his one beer on the counter and starts taking out his change.
MO (CONT’D): Four dollars.
MAN: Four dollars? This costs two!
During this exchange, Khaleef has changed the channels and lands on KTVU. They’re showing a reporter, RENEE GALVEZ, outside City Hall, with the words, “POLICE CHIEF OFFENDS ARAB AND MUSLIM AMERICANS.”
MO: Ey, turn it up. (to MJ) You hear about this?
MJ shakes his head.
RENEE GALVEZ: We’re here at City Hall, where Police Chief Jenny Wong made some comments that have been denounced by Arab and Muslim American groups.
MJ moves closer to the TV.
RENEE GALVEZ (CONT’D): Yesterday, two men were arrested when the van they were driving was considered suspicious after it had been parked in front of City Hall for twenty minutes. When I asked about the arrest today, Police Chief Wong said this:
We see a clip of the Police Chief, a middle-aged Asian-American woman wearing a full police uniform, doing an impromptu interview while walking out of City Hall.
Reporters jostle each other, following her down the hall.
POLICE CHIEF WONG: As a matter of policy, we always investigate suspicious vehicles near City Hall. In this case, it was a no-brainer. The men were Middle-Eastern and they’re sitting in a van outside City Hall. The van’s got Arabic writing on the side. It raises some red flags, don’t you think?
Now back to RENEE outside City Hall.
RENEE GALVEZ: As it turned out, the men were from a catering company, and oddly enough, they were delivering falafel to the mayor’s office.
As you can imagine, this has been embarrassing for the mayor. I’m here with Nasser Khan from the Arab-American Cultural Center.
The camera backs up to include a middle-aged man in a suit, standing with the reporter.
RENEE GALVEZ (CONT’D): What has been the response from the Arab-American community?
NASSER KHAN: Well, there has been outrage of course. Clearly this is a case of racial profiling, and Chief Wong has some explaining to do. It just never stops with this Department. And we eagerly await that explanation.
RENEE GALVEZ: Thank you, Mr. Khan. (As the camera zooms in on her again.)
INT. LIQUOR STORE — CONTINUOUS
MO: (disgusted) That’s your boss?
KHALEEF: What a dumbshit. Asian chick, too. You’d think she’d know better.
No response from MJ. He can’t believe it.
MJ’s phone buzzes. It’s from his mom. The text reads: “Where r u? Dont forget bring flour.”
MJ: See you guys.
MJ abruptly stops as he’s about to exit. Turns around and looks at MO.
MJ (CONT’D): Hey. Not in my Pop’s store.
MO: Wha? Whaddya mean?
MJ: Not in the store, Mo. Don’t make me see it.
MO: See what? What?
MJ: Don’t make me bust my own blood.
MJ just gives him a look. They’re all in a daze. He walks out, and all KHALEEF and MO can do is wave half-heartedly.
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