When I was a kid I thought I wanted to be in Congress. I liked the idea of being part of a large, governing body. I liked the idea of being a part of something. But now that I’m older and wiser, I’ve learned to be more selective.
And never have I had to be as selective as I do now. Because since we moved to West Des Moines, I don’t know who is going to be over at our house, when. And even though it was me who pushed for our relocation, it’s Monty who’s enjoying the social benefits. I’m constantly amazed at how many old high school friends he has, and they’re all still in the area. And then there’s his family.
I love them; I really do. I never had siblings or cousins, and it’s great to finally be a part of a big family. But last week I got home late, after staying with my dad so my mom could go to her book club. At 10 o’clock that night I walked in, and I found Monty and his brother Jack in the middle of one their frequent, weird competitions. What’s worse is I got sucked into it.
Monty, Jack, and their cousins were sitting in our huge, dance-studio-sized kitchen. Well, to be more accurate, they were sitting out on the deck that’s attached to our massive kitchen. The glass sliding doors were open, and I could hear them all before I could see them. And on the kitchen counter I saw a cutting board with an avocado pit sitting lying against it, an open jar of Prego tomato sauce, a salt shaker, and garlic powder.
Outside it was warm for early October, and a gentle breeze was blowing. But you would never have noticed the peaceful, Midwestern night because like members of Congress, everyone was talking over each other, protecting their own interests, and accomplishing nothing.
“We have to average the scores. You need three judges. That’s the only way,” said Robin, who is Monty’s youngest and only female cousin.
Monty, who was holding a dish of guacamole in one hand and a bowl of chips in the other, answered. “Yeah, yeah. I’m fine with that. But I get to be one of the judges.”
“You can’t be a judge!” Jack cried, using the angry voice that he reserves only for his brother. “That would be like Olympic athletes scoring themselves and having it count. It’s ridiculous.”
“Well then you can’t score me either.” Monty scowled at Jack. “You want me to lose, and you’ll give me a low score no matter good my guacamole is.”
Ian, Monty’s other cousin, gestured toward Robin and her boyfriend, who still barely knows any of us. “The three of us will be judges. That’s the only fair way.”
I saw panic register on Robin’s face. Whatever this stupid competition was, I could tell she didn’t want to involve her boyfriend. So that was when I stupidly spoke up. Nobody had noticed my presence yet, but when I said, “What’s going on?” everybody turned in my direction.
Monty’s face lit up. “Lucy can be a judge!”
Jack grimaced and shook his head. “No way. Uh uh. She’ll inflate your score.”
My jaw set, and I crossed my arms over my chest as I slid open the screen door and came outside. Everybody was sitting, except Monty, who stood with his guacamole and chips as if he was about to run a race, and Jack, who was leaning against the railing of the deck.
I sat down on a vacant patio chair. “Inflate his score for what? I asked defensively.
Robin answered me. “Jack said that Monty is so inept in the kitchen that he doesn’t even know how to make decent guacamole. Monty said that sounded like a challenge, so then it became one. Now we need three judges to taste and score it.”
Jack cut in. “We’ll average the scores out, and if he gets a five or higher, he wins. But if you get to be a judge, I get to be a judge.”
“I don’t want to be a judge,” I said.
“Yes you do,” Monty affirmed, then turned towards Jack. “She won’t inflate my score. So Lucy, Robin, and Ian can be the judges.”
“No way,” said Jack. “Me, Lucy, and Ian. That’s my final offer. Besides,” he said, with a smug smile, “I don’t know what you’re worried about. If your guacamole is so great, you should have no problem getting an average score of five, even if I do give you a one.”
Monty sighed. “Fine.” Then he shot me a meaningful look, communicating his demand: You’d better give me a high score.
I gave him a meaningful look back. You will pay for this, is what it said, and Monty turned his mouth up in a half smile.
After Jack handed out slips of paper and pens to use for scoring, and Monty handed out chips dipped in guacamole, I took a bite and considered my options. Or I tried to anyway, but my senses were confronted with the awful combination of avocado and spaghetti sauce. As I swallowed it down and wished for a palate cleanser, several thoughts ran through my mind:
1. It was by far the worst guacamole I had ever tasted.
2. If I gave Monty a low score he might hold a grudge.
3. If I gave him a high score, Jack’s earlier accusation about me would be true.
4. Either way I’d be screwed, because one of them would be annoyed and the other would use it as ammunition for future weird challenges.
5. They’re in their forties, for the love of God. Why can’t they grow up and stop competing?
6. I really just wanted to go to bed.
And I thought of John Boehner, who I would not want to be this week. I’m not saying I feel bad for him – quite the contrary – but it does seem that he’s in a no-win situation. If he blinks and allows a vote on the budget, then he angers Ted Cruz and all his Tea Party minions, and Boehner possibly loses his position as Speaker of the House. At the very least he loses face. But what’s the alternative? Obama and Reid are not going to budge on the budget or on Obamacare, and they shouldn’t have to. The minute we let one minority part of the majority dictate and hold bills hostage, our democracy turns into something decidedly undemocratic. After Obamacare was upheld by the Supreme Court and survived a presidential election, it’s time to let it happen.
But Boehner is more worried about his own political ramifications than he is with the people who suffer from a government shut-down. It isn’t right, but it is human. And in a twisted kind of way, I understand.
I calculated. If Jack and Ian both give him a score of one, then I’d have to give him a thirteen in order for Monty to win, and obviously I can’t do that. But what if Ian gives him a three, or even a four? I could give him a ten and he’d still win, but could I live with the dishonesty?
But then, where is my loyalty, and what price would I pay for disloyalty?
I wrote a number down on and handed my slip of paper to Robin, who was keeping score. She collected scores from Jack and Ian, and then read them off.
“One,” she announced, after reading the first slip. Monty shrugged and looked over at Jack.
“We all know who that is from,” Monty said.
Jack shook his head. “What were you thinking? Italian sauce in guacamole? It was disgusting!”
“We didn’t have any salsa,” Monty replied, defensive and a notch louder than he’d previously been talking. “I figured the two tastes are basically the same.”
“No they’re not!” Jack’s face contorted in horror. Jack owns a restaurant, and to him the correct mixing of flavors is a sacred science.
Robin read off the second score. “Four,” she said, and everyone looked over at Ian, who was staring at his feet. My stomach flipped because I knew what was coming.
Robin’s eyes widened before she read the last score. “Ten?” she said, as if she couldn’t believe it herself.
Monty whooped and started dancing around in victory. Jack shook his head and glared at me. “Are you kidding?” he said. “What is wrong with you? I don’t care if he is your husband, how could you possibly give him a ten?”
I started to defend myself, but before I could, Monty came over, grabbed my shoulders, lifted me to my feet and planted a joyful kiss on my mouth. And even though people were watching and Jack’s eyes were shooting daggers, I couldn’t help but respond and kiss Monty back. Just for a second.
But then Ian spoke. “I was the one who gave him a ten.”
Monty pulled away and we all stared at Ian.
“What?” Jack said. “Why?”
“Because,” Ian said, his cheeks turning pink, “I liked it. I had never tasted guacamole made with spaghetti sauce before. I thought it was really good.”
Robin started laughing and Jack, speechless, let his mouth hang open. Monty turned towards me. “So you gave me a FOUR?”
I bit my lip. “I guess I wasn’t as crazy about the taste as Ian was.”
“Because it was disgusting,” said Jack, and I sort of nodded in agreement. Jack squinted at me. “You should have given him a lower score then. If you think it’s disgusting, why didn’t you give him a one?”
So there I was, trying to compromise but making nobody happy. Because when you’re in the middle of a standoff, forced to choose between loyalty and ideals, there is no way to escape unscathed.
But after I grabbed a beer from the refrigerator and washed the unpleasant taste of Monty’s weird guacamole away, we all managed to laugh and change the subject. Then I forgot how tired I was and enjoyed myself. The only real repercussions I suffered were the next morning, when I awoke at my usual time, exhausted, because I didn’t get enough sleep.
If only that was the extent of John Boehner’s problems.