Though some have much more control over it than others, we all have a stubborn streak lurking somewhere beneath the surface. I would challenge anyone to disagree, but that would be the old me talking, the one whose inclination toward reason and common sense was overshadowed by a desire to be right all the time; Who was surely destined for a career in law, forever finding loopholes in logic and flaws in any argument lain out before him.
What does this have to do with the patriotic lyrics from the American national anthem contained in this week’s title? To answer that I need to take you back to a balmy night in the summer of 2008. After an evening of drinking, my friend Kim bid goodnight to Kristy and I, who, as always, had cracked another couple of beers to bring the night to a close. We chatted awhile, discussing all manner of things, before one of us – I’ve never been quite sure who, but have always had a sneaking suspicion it was Kristy – suddenly set out a challenge: “Let’s see if we can name all of the states of America!”
Pen quickly in hand, names begun being scrawled in a neat column on the left hand side of a scrap of paper. New York, Florida and California were first on the list, quickly followed by Texas, Georgia and Colorado. Things slowed down almost instantly, taking a rather sharp turn for the worse when the names of random European cities began being suggested with absolute confidence. A healthy debate was also held as to whether “Newark” was a state, and quite surprisingly given the fact that Canadian provinces and entire African nations were mere moments prior almost declared winning candidates for the list, we managed to correctly decide that Newark was actually an airport in New York. This was followed by a period of intense silence lasting perhaps fifteen minutes, in which nothing was said and the only noise to temporarily break the silence was the sipping of a beer. Had we set up a camera to film the game, it would have been at this point that the pure determination in our eyes began to manifest. An hour in, and it was clear that neither of us was going to give up. We were in it for the long haul.
Two and a half hours in, we had 40 states on our list and the sun was rising. Normal human beings would have given up two hours and twenty minutes prior to this, but no, not us. For you see Kristy has an iron will when it comes to games. Sober, let alone with a couple of drinks behind her, she will set her mind toward solving a problem and not give up until it is complete. While I can quite happily abandon a puzzle or game when I am alone, my problem is when faced with a group challenge, I like to win. In this regard we are both the perfect match and the ultimate nightmare.
For anyone who has ventured to The Kent Hotel – or, let’s face it, any number of dicey-looking pubs throughout the nation – you would have seen one of those skill-tester type of machines, requiring you to line up a row of flashing lights by pressing a button at precise intervals as they zoom across the LED-display. All in the hopes of winning a camera that probably costs $23.90 from Go-Lo. At $2 a pop, this game is not only incredibly affordable if you play just once, but a killer to the bank balance if you have Kristy’s aforementioned appetite for solving problems. Neither Kristy or I have ever seen anyone win before, but that hasn’t stopped her from trying, repeatedly, for what seems like decades. Nor has it stopped me from being the devil sitting on her shoulder, encouraging her by declaring that just like Roxie Hart’s murderous climb to fame, it’s only a matter of time before she makes it big.
So it was then, early that summer morning in 2008 that Kristy sat quietly, staring intently at the floor with assorted place names flipping through her mind like a mental roladex, in all likelihood oblivious to the fact that I was still in the room and with a look in her eye that said “I will get this, I will get this!” All the while I sat opposite her staring her down, silently and internally screaming at myself to “Get one before she does!” Had either of us not been born with our own flawless affinity for the stubborn, we may not have been able to complete the challenge that night. As it was, success was ours.
Whether it was the additional beers we had consumed by this point or simply the fact that we were at last hitting our stride, the states soon started to flow like wine at an Italian wedding. Idaho – 46! Nebraska – 47! Soon we had 48, then 49, 50, and finally 51 and 52! Yes, with our heads held high in the dawn’s early light that Sunday morning, feeling as though we too lived in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we managed to somehow name 52 of the 50 states of America.
While I’m unaware where this list got to, or which parts of the world were informally awarded US statehood that morning in Kristy’s lougeroom, what I do know is this: In the leadup to the US Presidential election this November, there will be so many promises made by both nominees that eventually go unfulfilled that mine and Kristy’s flawed personalities, incomplete knowledge of US history and inability to resist a skill tester machine will become as unimportant to the rest of the world as being an acceptable human being appears to have become to the presumptive Republican nominee for President, Mitt Romney.
But just think Kristy: Worst case scenario, if Barack loses, at least you’ll be one step closer to getting him around to your place and dressing him up instead of the Barack doll. And really, isn’t that a prize far better than any $23.90 digital camera?