There’s a scene in the classic 1975 movie “Dog Day Afternoon” in which bank robber Sonny Wortzik, played by Al Pacino, tells lover Leon Shermer, played by Chris Sarandon, that he has taken hostages and arranged for safe passage to Algeria.
As it was for some Americans, that was my introduction to the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria. For the longest time, it also represented the extent of my knowledge of it. That it was somewhere you might want to fly if you had botched a bank robbery and taken hostages. I was reminded of that by a co-worker on the copy desk.
I know now that Algeria has oil, a disdain for most things French, and a soccer team. And if the guys with “USA” on their jerseys don’t defeat it Wednesday, they will probably be joining those crybabies from France on the World Cup sidelines.
One of the endearing qualities of the World Cup is that every four years I learn something about countries that didn’t exist when I was born, such as Ivory Coast, Slovenia, Algeria and the Faroe Islands. (Actually, the Faroe Islands have been an autonomous province of Denmark since 1948, which was before I was born, and its national football team has never qualified for the World Cup, although it did beat Austria 1-0 in its first-ever international fixture in Sweden, because there were no grass soccer fields in the Faroe Islands in 1992.)
I suppose if our guys don’t beat Algeria it won’t be the end of the world, because Locomotives minicamp is under way. And also because unlike the Rest of the World, most Americans watch soccer only every four years when we can’t sleep, because that’s when the games usually come on. But I also suppose if there was an Algerian who lived next door, he might be inclined to give you a hard time nonetheless.
That was the idea for this column: to find an Algerian who lived next door, down the block or even in Boulder City. Would he be interested in making a friendly wager? Would he be painting his face red, white and green? Would he consider swapping two Khader Ghezzal Abdel trading cards for one of my Landon Donovans? There are these and other questions. Such as how can the Casbah really rock if Sharia don’t like it?
First, I canvassed the neighborhood. No Algerians on my block. Only a couple of Korean housewives (degree of desperation unknown) and a guy who wears a trench coat and might be with the Russians. Nothing Algerian in the phone book, like a social club or shish kebab joint. The Internet turned up only contact information for an Algerian dance instructor shrouded in veils and bedecked in baubles named Rossah. I e-mailed her, told her I wanted to talk Algerian soccer. There was no reply.
The next stop would have been the Algiers hotel-casino on the Strip, had it not been swallowed whole by the equally doomed Fontainebleau Las Vegas.
UNLV has a professor named Algerian Hart, who wasn’t in and didn’t call back. It also has an Algerian-born tennis player, Mehdi Bouras. Mark Wallington of the UNLV sports information department sent a text message with Bouras’ telephone number. It had about 35 digits. Make that 38. Don’t forget the international access code, Wallington reminded.
The first four times I tried to dial “8” and those 37 other numbers there were weird beeps followed by a familiar voice that said my call could not be completed as dialed. The fifth time a woman answered. She was more proficient in English than I am in French or Arabic. But when I started talking soccer, she spoke tennis. She said Mehdi was playing 100 kilometers east of Paris and gave me a telephone number containing more digits than the collective dungarees at Folsom Prison.
That call couldn’t be completed as dialed, either.
It was nearly 6 p.m. in Las Vegas, midnight at the oasis in Oran. No time left to slip off to a sand dune real soon. The camels had been put to bed.
My Dog Day Afternoon was turning into a Dog Day Evening without making contact with a single Algerian.
I thought of the movie, when dim-witted accomplice Sal began to doubt Sonny Wortzik’s jumbo-jet-to-Algeria plan and Sonny asked Sal what country did he want to go to then.
“Wyoming,” Sal said.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0352.