Have you ever had a moment where you realized that maybe you’re the weird one?
It happened to me as I came-to while squatting like some trail leader on a hike pointing out moose tracks for an audience of bored seventh graders, only I was alone and hovering over a carpet, smoothing out the wrinkles in a pair of American Flag-printed shorts. Beside the shorts lay a whole assortment of patriotic paraphernalia — a fanny pack; a red, white and blue swimsuit; a pair of striped tube socks in case anyone ever invited me to a party that was Dazed and Confused-themed — but I was missing my American Flag koozie, and I was pissed and muttering to myself about it.
“Where the hell did I put it?”
“Is it in the drawer with your other America stuff?”
“No, I checked.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. It’s just so strange because I swear I saw it yesterday.”
“It’s also strange because you’re talking to yourself. About a fabric sleeve designed for beer cans.”
I was at a crossroads of both personal discovery and terror, the discovery being that I’m officially a patriotic paraphernalia collector. I’m not even sure when I accrued all of this stuff; I’d consider myself a festive, good citizen who votes but not especially…patriotic? At least not the way car commercials are.
In early June I agreed to a pitch assigned by my co-worker, Yvonne, to try a “Fourth of July Diet” because it sounded funny. What I never predicted is that I’d dive so deep.
The first half of the diet was a flop, carb-loaded with irony. I was working remotely in London; Perhaps you’ve heard of the original 1776 Independence Day? The one where John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and a deep-rolling squad of 53 other men declared that the United States was no longer a part of Great Britain? Yet there I was, eating in a pub, affecting a British accent (I can’t help it, I’m like Madonna!), telling literally every Londoner who would listen that I was one “missed plane” away from moving there.
(My stay in the UK also happened to circle the final days that led up to “Brexit.” Man Repeller’s Account Strategist Jasmin Aujla, who’s British, wrote about what it was like to be in America when the decision was announced.)
Instead of flying home to New York, I boarded a plane to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I didn’t want to leave but my friends were getting married and I had to focus on being very American. Wyoming made that easy what with its beautiful, spacious sky and Tevas worn in earnest and the heart-stopping, vast mountains. The whole place made me swell with such American pride that for an entire a minute I was like, Hugh Grant who? Shakespeare’s lame. Harry Potter probably didn’t even need those glasses.
On Saturday, my friends suggested a few U.S.A. clichés that fell neatly into my lap: the hot dog, Bruce Springsteen and tubing down a Lazy River.
Luckily (luckily!) I had packed a one-piece that boasted my country’s initials in giant white letters. Conveniently, our hotel was near a Dairy Queen. Stupidly, we ate hot dogs before a floating adventure that quickly turned into a near death experience, one of bruised asses and punctured rafts. Quick rapids, low bridges, sharp brambles and high water will ruin the word “lazy” in a heartbeat.
So we did what any sane idiots would: bailed. Ditched the group. Climbed out of the water, choking and laughing. Said things a little too real like, “That was close.” Walked toward the nearest highway. Hitch-hiked. Got picked up by a California ex-pat named Hunter who had moved to Jackson Hole in search of The Answer — deeper meaning and fresh powder. Ate handfuls of dry cereal. Listened to country music while the actual country flashed by and made small talk during red lights. Crammed in the back of his pick up truck, we worried about murder and fixing our hair in time for the wedding and exactly how long we’d been sitting in wet swimsuits.
All’s well that ends well that lives to write the tale: a few hours later, it was already a funny story. It was the most On the Road I’d probably ever get; as close to the Rockies as I’d ever been. There were cowboys and bison near me; “Elk X-ing” highway signs and soil-embossed moose tracks. It was insanely, insanely American.
Which is why I so badly needed that stupid koozy upon my return to New York. For my first day back after a week away, I wanted to walk in to the office like the statue of liberty: baseball cap as crown, iced coffee hand held high and proud, warmed by a foam sleeve covered in stars and stripes.
Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis; creative direction by Emily Zirimis.