“In conclusion,” I said, “the single best piece of advice that I have for you is to register to vote. Wherever else you go, whatever else you do, you will always have the responsibility to vote. Making sure that you are registered is not only the smart thing to do; it’s the right thing to do. And I expect to see all of you who are eligible to vote at the polls on Election Day.”
It got a nice round of applause from the West Hanover High School audience, or at least those who were still awake at the assembly. Mark Campbell, my Republican opponent, came over to shake my hand, and we both waved to the crowd. I turned to leave the stage, but was blocked by the headmaster.
“Our students have some questions for both of you, if you don’t mind,” she said, and of course there’s nothing you can do in such a situation but comply. Campbell fielded a couple of questions about why Donald Trump is such an awful human being, and I was lucky enough to get asked a couple of questions on American history. (It turns out that they still don’t teach Harold Zinn in American public high schools, although I don’t understand why.) Then Campbell got a question from a young person with a female gender expression who was wearing an odd-looking pleated skirt.
“Are you both going to the game on Friday,” she asked, “and who will you be cheering for?”
Campbell took the question first, for which I was grateful. “I wouldn’t miss the East-West game,” he said. “As most of you know, I played football for East Hanover.” The crowd booed, lustily. “Wait, wait, wait,” he continued, grinning broadly. “But as you also know, my son Larry plays linebacker for West Hanover, so, reluctantly, I’m going to be cheering for West Hanover!” That got the biggest cheer of the day.
“Now my opponent over there went to a fancy prep school in New Haven that barely even has a football program. And he went to Amherst, which has a worse program than Rutgers.” That drew some snickers. “But if he wants to see how we do high school football in New Jersey, he’s got an open invitation to watch the game with me.”
“How about it, Mr. Fairchild?” the headmaster asked.
I looked out in the audience, and saw Polly in the first row, mouthing “YES”. So I said I would, although I’d rather have been boiled in saturated palm oil.
*
“So what do you actually know about football?” Polly asked.
“I saw the Will Smith movie, where he pretended to be Nigerian.”
“So what useful thing do you know about football?”
“I don’t need to know anything about football,” I said. “I’m going to treat it like any other campaign event. I went to the dairy farmer’s event, and I don’t know anything about milking cows.”
“And you asked someone if you could get a soy milk latte,” she said.
“How was I supposed to know they would be touchy about that?” I asked, reasonably enough.
“Justin, the fact of the matter is that you’re an idiot. The only way you’re this close in the polls is that people have not figured that out. If you insist on going into situations without an adequate briefing, you will put yourself into more situations where people will figure out that you are an idiot.”
“I’m not worried,” I said. “Plenty of idiots in Congress. There’s room for one more.”
“If you won’t take the time to learn the basic elements of a game that most Americans follow, then saying you’re an idiot isn’t just a joke. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“It’s not my fault that they’re dumb enough to waste their time following a patriarchal capitalist sport that destroys people’s brains. And, yeah, I know you follow it. Even so. It ought to be banned. Maybe I can’t run on that, but I believe it. And I’m right. One day you’ll see that.”
“That’s not going to be Friday,” she said. “You’re going to the game, and you’re going to root for the home team, and keep your stupid idiot opinions to yourself.”
*
I was waiting on the sideline for the game to start. It turns out that there’s a weird little ceremony that they do before every game that involves flipping a coin in the air, for whatever reason I cannot imagine, and they wanted Campbell to participate, and out of fairness he invited me along. I was just standing around, waiting for Campbell to show up so we could both do whatever we needed to do, and I didn’t mean to eavesdrop on the two young Campbell campaign aides who were standing behind me.
“He’s not going to do it,” one said.
“You watch.”
“Nobody’s that big of an idiot. He’ll figure it out.”
“Trust me, It can’t miss. He’s a moron.”
“You can’t run for Congress and that be that big of a moron.”
I was heartened to hear that Campbell’s staff thought he was an idiot, too. It made me feel much better about Polly calling me one.
“You ever look real hard at who’s in Congress?”
I must have snorted at that, a little, because the two staffers came over to where I was standing. “You’re Mr. Fairchild, aren’t you?” one of them asked.
“That’s me,” I said.
One of them was carrying a little black plastic bag. He opened it and drew out a piece of red fabric.
“Congressman Campbell is going to be wearing a blue jersey for the coin flip. The campaign thought that since he’s wearing blue, you might want to wear red.”
“Oh,” I said. “That’s actually appropriate. Blue is the conservative color anyway; red is the socialist color. It got switched in 2000 for some reason.”
“Well, yeah, of course,” they said. “Here you go. Put it on.”
It was a snazzy uniform, with a bright white number 7. I put it on, and it fit nicely.
“You look great, Mr. Fairchild,” one of them said. “You look like a real fan. There’s just one thing.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Well, I mean, I don’t want to have to point this out, but the name goes on the back.”
“Oh,” I said. I took off the jersey. The name on the back said KAEPERNICK. I put it on the right way. I wondered who KAEPERNICK was, but it didn’t seem important enough to care about.
*
“So, let me get this straight,” Polly said. “You’re telling me that you didn’t choose to wear that jersey? That somebody from the Campbell campaign just gave it to you?”
“Yeah, exactly,” I said.
“AND YOU JUST PUT IT ON? WITHOUT THINKING ABOUT IT?”
“Well, yes.”
“WHAT KIND OF AN IDIOT ARE YOU?”
Polly’s face was purple, and I made a note to myself to make sure she was taking her blood pressure medication. “What’s wrong with it? It’s a nice jersey.”
“Did. You. NOT. Hear. All. Those. People. Booing. You.”
“Wait, they were booing me? I thought they were booing the referee or something. What did I do?”
*
“Well, it could have been worse,” Emma said, when we were all back home.
“How?” I asked. “I managed to make a whole stadium of people mad at me by accident, and I still don’t understand why.”
“You don’t understand why?” she asked.
“I was supporting–not intentionally, but still–a brave social justice warrior who was standing up for his ideals. You know, by not standing up.”
“It’s the National Anthem,” she said. “You can’t just disrespect the National Anthem like that.”
“Why? It’s a song. The song doesn’t know it’s a song, much less that it’s the anthem. Why show respect to a song?”
“It reminds us that we’re all Americans,” Emma said.
“You need to be reminded of that? I don’t.”
“Justin, it is late, and I am tired, and I don’t want to argue with you about you being an idiot, okay? Let’s just put a pin in it and come back to it tomorrow, okay?”
So we went to bed, and as my head hit the pillow, I couldn’t help thinking about how odd the national anthem was. It’s an old British drinking song that was adapted by a Baltimore lawyer to tell a story about an inconclusive attack on a tiny little fort across the bay from the Inner Harbor. And if you don’t stand up for it, people hate you. It didn’t seem fair, but when you go the distance every day like I do, fairness really isn’t something you expect.
****
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
Week Nineteen:The Trending Topic
Week Twenty-One:The Blessed Event
Week Twenty-Two:The 3AM Feeding
Week Twenty-Three:The Stuffed Elephant
Week Twenty-Five:The Turkey Jive
Week Twenty-Six:The Wiki Leak
Week Twenty-Seven:The Baby Bjorn
Week Twenty-Eight:The Passport Agency
Week Twenty-Nine: The Media Buy