by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

NEWS ITEM: As the United Nations convenes to celebrate its 50th birthday, leaders from 185 countries will gather today for a “class photo.” It is the first time so many world leaders have been photographed in one room. A special task force has been working on the shoot since last spring, and a recent run- through took more than six hours.

“You must carry this out with maximum civility,” said Francois Giuliani, director of the UN media division. You can’t just say, ‘You there, stupid, you’re moving.’ “

Among the leaders expected today: President Bill Clinton, Britain’s John Major, Russia’s Boris Yeltsin, China’s Jiang Zemin, Japan’s Toshiki Kaifu, France’s Alain Juppe and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. LATER TODAY . . .

PHOTOGRAPHER: All right. Bring them in . . . Ah. Kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, welcome to this historic occasion!

GROUP: Hello! . . . Bonjour . . . Shalom . . . Asalam alekim . . . Greetings! . . . Hola . . . Yassoo! . . . G’day–

PHOTOGRAPHER: OK! Enough! Now. My assistants will show you to your proper places. We’re going to try this alphabetically.

CLINTON: Great. I’m first.

YELTSIN: How you figure?

CLINTON: “A,” for America.

YELTSIN: You mean “U,” for United States.

MAJOR: I’m “B,” for Britain.

KAIFU: I thought it was Great Brita–

PHOTOGRAPHER: OK, OK. Forget the alphabetical.

CLINTON: Well, I should be in the front row. It’s our country.

MAJOR: It wasn’t always.

YELTSIN: Ha! Is good joke, no?

CLINTON: Stuff it, borscht-breath.

YELTSIN: What you call me?

PHOTOGRAPHER: Gentlemen, please. Can I have the USA over here, next to the Soviet Uni–


PHOTOGRAPHER: Sorry. Russia, Belarus, Georgia and, um, all the other new countries. And right here should go France. Where is France?

JUPPE: Je suis ici.

MAJOR: Did he say “easy?”

CLINTON: Not when you want to fly through his airspace, he isn’t.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Ah, Mr. Juppe. You stand here. And China, where is China?

JIANG: xxxx . . . x . . . xxxxxx.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Fine. Stand here.

CLINTON: Hey, Jiang, how’s it hangin’?

JIANG: xxxxx . . . xxxx . . . xxx-xxxxx?

CLINTON: Wha’d he say?

TRANSLATOR: He say, “Who won O.J. thing?”

PHOTOGRAPHER: Gentlemen, please! We have very limited time. We need the Second World countries to stand in the second row, and the Third World countries to stand in TURKEY: xxx . . . xxxx . . . xxxxxx?


TRANSLATOR: He wants to know which way faces Mecca?

PHOTOGRAPHER: Wherever the lens is, OK?

FIDEL CASTRO: Ahem! I am here!

CLINTON: Look, it’s Jerry Garcia.

FIDEL: Silence, infidel! Where do I stand?

CLINTON: We’ve been tying to figure that out for years.

CASTRO: Capitalist pig. One day we will crush you. We will dance on your roof and spit down your chimney.

CLINTON: Does the word “sanctions” mean anything to you?

CASTRO: Do the words “Olympic boxing gold medals” mean anything to you?

PHOTOGRAPHER: Leaders, please! Could we have your attention up front? Now. If you would all look this way. And on the count of three, just say cheese.

MALAYSIA: What is cheese?

GHANA: What is three?

PHOTOGRAPHER: All together now . . . one, two, three—


PHOTOGRAPHER: Wait . . . darn it . . . the stupid flash never works.

CLINTON: Must be Japanese.

KAIFU: Must be American.

YELTSIN: Must be Russian.


GHANA: Not now, stupid.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Did it go off? NO!

EPILOGUE: After six hours, the photo was never taken. The world leaders did, however, pass a special resolution: Next year, same time, they will try again. Like most UN resolutions, it’s expected to be ignored.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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