“Explain it to me just one more time,” I said.
Polly looked at me in the way that always made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I thought about having them removed, but it turns out that it takes a long time and it hurts, so I decided to live with it.
“Monday is Memorial Day,” she said.
“Got that part.”
“Memorial Day is for honoring the memory of dead servicemen. And women.”
“And Veteran’s Day is what again?”
“It’s for honoring the living veterans, the ones that are still around.”
“So we honor them on Veteran’s Day while they’re alive, and then again on Memorial Day after they die? That’s so confusing.”
“It’s not that confusing. Memorial Day is a post-Civil War remembrance, and Veteran’s Day is post-World War I.”
“So when is Social Justice Warrior Day?” I asked.
“Okay, Justin, listen. My grandfather was a POW in Vietnam. His father got killed at Anzio. This is important to me, personally, got it? And if it’s not important to you, you will embarrass yourself, which is bad, and embarrass me, which is worse.”
“Got it,” I said. “Okay, so we’re doing the Memorial Day event at the Hanover cemetery. Because they’re dead.”
“Yes. And you’re not speaking, so that means you shouldn’t have the chance to say anything stupid.”
“Microaggression,” I said. “I’m not that stupid. Anyway, I’m getting better.”
“Sometimes I wonder,” she said.
*
The event was quiet and subdued. There would be a parade, later, but this part was meant to be somber, and I could understand why. The director of the local American Legion was in charge of it, and it looked like he had done it for twenty years, so everything was running smoothly. All I had to do was sit back and look somber and not check my phone for e-mail. It was a trial, but I’ve faced worse in my time.
“And now, I would like to have our honored guest, Mr. Justin Fairchild, lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance,” the director said.
This was not in the program. I know, because I got a copy of it later. If I had known ahead of time that he was going to ask me to do it, I would have done a better job, but I didn’t, and so when I went up to the podium, I perhaps didn’t do the best job I could have with the Pledge.
“I pledge allegiance,” I said, “to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the Republic, for which it stands. Um. Wait. With truth, justice, and the American way for all.”
I felt uncomfortable after I’d finished. And everybody looked uncomfortable, but nobody laughed and nobody said anything, so there was that. I knew I had flubbed it, and when I looked at Polly’s brick-red face in the audience, I knew I had flubbed it badly. I sat down and hoped that nobody else would notice.
*
“Say it,” Polly said.
“Say what?” I asked.
“The Pledge. Say it. Say it right.”
“I don’t know the Pledge,” I said. “I went to an international Montessori school in New Haven. We didn’t say the Pledge of Allegiance. Anyway, it’s an imperialist holdover.”
“Michael Dukakis lost the presidency because he didn’t respect the Pledge of Allegiance,” Polly said. “You are going to learn it. You are going to say it a hundred times in a row until you do learn it. Not knowing it is a sign of disrespect for your country–you know, the one you want to lead.”
“I just got a couple of the words wrong,” I said. “It’s not that big a deal.”
“You said something from a Superman comic book,” Polly said. “It is a big deal. You can complain about this country all you want to, but if you openly disrespect its ideals, nobody will ever elect you to anything. And since everybody else in this country who didn’t go to expensive private kindergartens already knows the Pledge, you will look like an even bigger idiot than you already are.”
The hairs on the back of my neck were sticking up again. “Okay,” I said. “Fine.” I picked up my phone.
“Siri, say the Pledge of Allegiance?”
Siri came back and said, “That may be beyond my abilities at the moment.”
“See?” I said. “Siri doesn’t know the Pledge, either.”
“Siri isn’t running for Congress,” Polly said. “Which is too bad, because she might do a better job. I will print it out for you so you can practice. Like, all day. Because you’re going to get this right the next time.”
*
I left campaign headquarters late, with my mouth dry from reciting the Pledge over and over again. I think I got it. I kept tripping up on the “under God” part, mostly because I am an atheist, but Polly said it was still part of the Pledge and I had to say it, despite the obvious Establishment Clause issue. My phone rang when I was in the car, and I picked it up.
“Justin Fairchild,” I said.
“Hi, Mr. Fairchild? This is Tina at Facebook? How are you today?”
“Um, fine?” I said.
“Okay! Well, I just wanted to let you know about that video? The one of you not knowing the words to the Pledge of Allegiance?”
“There was a video?” I said. I would have kicked myself if I wasn’t driving, and if my legs weren’t already sore from Polly kicking me in the shins last week. Of course there was a video.
“Yes, and I wanted to let you know that we’ve removed it from our trending topics.”
“The video was trending?” I said.
“Yes, but it’s not anymore. We’ve done everything we can to keep people from sharing and watching it, just to minimize the personal damage to you.”
“Oh,” I said.
“And we’re of course hopeful that you’ll remember this once you’re elected. Have a nice day!”
“Thanks,” I said. “I appreciate it.” Sometimes when you go the distance, you find that others are there to help you along the way, even if you never expected it.
*******
Check out the previous installments:
Last year:
Week Forty-Nine:The True North
Week Fifty:The Garden State
This year:
Week Four:The Brain Trust
Week Six:The Snow Day

Week Seven:The Coin Flip

Week Eight:The Wicked Witch
Week Eleven:The State Dinner
Week Twelve:The Maple Leaf Rag
Week Thirteen:The Large Endowment
Week Fourteen:The Transit Authority
Week Fifteen:The Ten Forty
Week Sixteen:The Bachelor Party
Week Seventeen:The Refugee Crisis
Week Eighteen: The Taco Bowl