Monday, June 14, 2010

Quite possibly the most patriotic thing I've ever done

At some point in this last horrible winter I decided to come to terms with certain truths about myself, one of them being that I don't like soccer. I have tried, because that is the British thing to do -- the European thing to do -- but after four years of living abroad I decided it was time to stop lying to myself. On the whole, soccer bores the great holy fuck out of me.

I have played soccer and enjoyed it quite a bit. I also enjoy running long distances, and swimming, and eating chocolate cake, and watching NCIS; there are myriad things I enjoy but which I have no interest in watching other people do. Watching professional soccer in Europe is just 90 minutes of guys struggling to compensate for their male insecurities by chasing a ball, getting angry at nothing and faking injury.

I'll make exceptions from time to time, to watch particularly significant matches. But I think perhaps more so for the sake of being able to say I watched the match than out of any actual interest. Either way, I found myself at the Gwdihŵ Saturday sitting down to watch the USA take on England as part of the World Cup.

Surprisingly, considering the fact that Gwdihŵ is in the centre of Cardiff, Wales, the bar filled up with England fans. I'll admit to feeling disappointed. In the weeks running up to this match people were suggesting I would find nothing but love and support in pubs up and down the country. Which would have been nice. One of the simple facts of life to being an American in Britain is that every new conversation starts with a criticism of where I'm from. I was looking forward to having people cheer with me, being on my side.

But the Welsh say more than they do. There were plenty in Gwdihŵ, but they chose to remain silent. So when the national anthems were sung at the start of the match, "God Save the Queen" rang out strong and true, without opposition. And when "The Star-Spangled Banner" started up, I was the only one singing.

The only one.

With dozens of guys wearing England flags turning to stare at me.

"Well, shit," I thought, squeaking out the first words of an anthem that has never really meant all that much to me. "I might as well go for it."

And in the space of those first five words -- "Oh, say can you see..." -- I snapped. Something welled up inside of me and shook. I don't know if it was pride in where I'm from, anger at this island of rain, or a mixture of both. But suddenly I was singing from the full of me. More than that, actually. I was singing with more than my lungs, my heart and my soul. It was as if something outside of me was pushing through, as well.

"Wow," I thought. "I'm surprisingly loud. I didn't know I could produce this much noise. I wonder if I could push it more."

I could. I did. The volume cranked up but I was still holding all the notes. My body was giving everything to this song. I am certain I looked insane. I am sure I was wild-eyed, face red, the veins popping from my face. The whole place went quiet. I could hear my voice echoing off the walls. Everyone had turned to stare.

In my heart all the irony died. I wasn't jokingly singing in a pub. I was singing as an act of self-declaration, an act of defiance. The final words -- "Land of the free and the home of the brave" -- were belted out with both middle fingers raised in the air.

The England fans looked away. People clapped. The match started.

"I think you scared them," Bridget said. "They probably think you're some crazy guy who knows kung-fu."

Two days later, my throat still hurts.