My interest in preserving the free world was waning after an hour of standing in line around a high school to caucus. I was sweaty. My stomach growled. My Democratic neighbors weren’t as politically enlightening as I’d hoped. The feeling was mutual. If we spoke about politics at all, we live-acted one another’s Facebook feeds, parroting memes, shaking our heads, “Trump?!”, squawk squawk squawk, pretending we don’t rely on click-bait media for our most important civic decisions, and that we didn’t bring this reality TV Armageddon on ourselves.
Worse, this was taking for-ev-er. I longed for the decisive brevity of primary voting—a quick trip into a booth to push a button, and voilà—instant democracy. As a stalwart citizen, I was about to give up on what seemed like an unnecessary charade and go to Yard House when I saw the American flag.
Old Glory stuck its head up where the line curled into a clog near the front door. The stars and stripes were shaking a bit. Some of the frustrated caucusers-to-be were piling up under it, pushing it, causing it to lean, and for a second—a flash of quadrennial participatory democracy fatigue? A keen propaganda reflex? I envisioned the iconic image of U.S. soldiers thrusting that flag skyward at Iwo Jima. I moved up to get a better view. Was it a veteran? A protestor? A fight?
By God, it was a Girl Scout. With a wagon full of cookies.
Sweet land of liberty, there was meaning to our struggle. I was suddenly, ferociously patriotic, super-proud to be participating in every step of this brilliant bureaucratic nightmare, and hell-bent on getting Girl Scout Cookies. I ducked and dashed and elbowed my way through the masses, leaving the frail and un-hungry/un-American in my wake. My right hand instinctively began digging into my pockets and my bag looking for cash without me ever asking it to—pure muscle memory!—and I heard myself yelling, “Samoas! Save the Samoas!” Scads of chattery blowhards corrected me—“We say Caramel deLites now”—while the most battle-worthy of us dove in. It was a pile-on. I saw a box of Thin Mints fly into the air and an old woman in a Go Solar T-shirt end-zone-leap over me to grab them. I saw a young man in a Hillary shirt crawl under the scrum. I saw a defensive dad protecting his tiny green-uniformed genius with elbows out. I saw cash raining down on her, and the bottom of the little red wagon becoming more visible as the boxes disappeared.
“Give me the Tagalongs!” I yelled, now unclear on my original policy goals, but desperate to achieve something, anything. “They’re called Peanut Butter Patties now,” some jerk on the sidelines chided again.
When I finally got up there, or down there, in the face of a little girl named Gabriella, I could see that there were at least four or five boxes left. I had the cash. I was in position. But then, suddenly, awfully, everything in my mind went silent, and people started moving in slow-motion, and I felt like I was in a bubble, and rather than secure the bounty, I was shell-shocked to hear myself ask the tiny girl this shameless question: “Are … you … a Democrat?”
She looked up at her dad, who looked at me with the cold eyes of a papa bear about to devour human flesh, and I replied with my last, best weapon: a feeble smile. The smile of a civic-minded neighbor, here to participate in the best political system on Earth, a peaceful system. A smile that said: I’m part of a community of respectful citizens who come together to express our differences in a functioning conversation that allows everyone to have a voice, and does not require violence.
“No,” he said. “I’m a Republican.”
Fellow Americans, there is a moment in every patriot’s life where one needs to put aside partisan politics and look for the greater good. Even when there’s a crafty infiltrator capitalizing on your cumbersome caucus. There was one box of Caramel Samoa Mint Butter Patties left, and my mind was eerily flooded with the voice of Sarah Palin misquoting everyone about the virtues of free-market capitalism, which should be open to all, because that’s what we’re all about, opportunism. You betcha.
“I’ll take it,” I said, and I pushed my five-dollar bill with the picture of Abe Lincoln, another wise Republican, at him.
Gabriella’s dad knew he’d won. He didn’t just win my five bucks, he won the war, the hearts and stomachs of hostiles, the whole friggin’ day. He calmly took my money and they strolled away, American flag bouncing on the back of the wagon.
And we were left to measure our loyalties, cookies in hand. With every bite, I received more enlightenment.