Loyalty’s a funny thing. Not funny “ha-ha,” either. Funny more in the way that I don’t understand it. And when I don’t understand something, I write a column about it.
Who are you? You are what you’re loyal to. Are you an American? Are you a Texan or a New Yorker? Are you a fan of this team or that? Are you one of those folks who likes “The Godfather II” more than “The Godfather I”? Yale or Harvard? Us or Them?
I’m a New Havener. That is to say that I was born at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and I’ve never since left the city for any important period of time. I grew up three blocks from the Yale Bowl. My dogs urinate on the fence posts around the stadium, and occasionally, so do I. I’m actually tethered to a steel hook on the corner of York and Chapel streets and can’t leave the city. Once I tried to get to Hamden, but had to cut short my escape when my bungee cord got caught in the car door.
I’m a New Havener — and that’s it. Really, I can’t think of anything else that I’m particularly loyal to. America? Sure. I guess. Yeah. Count me in. I’ll bring the cole slaw. Yale? Fine. More to be counted among the ranks of Edward Norton than G.W. Bush. Connecticut? Whatever. It’s just a state. Not even a very exciting one at that. Pretty much the most exciting place in Connecticut is my buddy Ben’s basement in Woodbridge. He’s got the old-school 8-bit Nintendo, and, like, 30 games. And the power glove.
I take pride in this city. Beyond that, though, I don’t really take pride in anything I’m officially associated with. State pride? Connecticut’s got the highest per capita income in the country! Wicked! Hartford! The insurance capital of the world! Hell yeah! A toast to the Nutmeg State! — Yeah. That’s its real name.
Pride in America? Sometimes. I’m proud of America whenever I read human interest stories in the paper about German shepherds rescuing immigrants or babies. German shepherds! The true heroes! U! S! A!
Not so much pride when we’re lobbing smart bombs over the backyard fence.
When I think about it, I have a hard time pledging my loyalty to anything but my city for one simple reason: States are arbitrary. The United States is arbitrary. It’s a flag in the ground. It’s a line on a map. It’s a line we happened to draw over a couple of cultures who had their own flags in the ground at the time, but — we’re number one.
Yeah, I’m a big bleeding heart “internationalist.” Or “universalist,” even better. You pegged me, Dr. Lecter. I wasn’t born an American. Or a Connecticut-er. I don’t believe in automatic loyalty to these bodies.
I WAS born a white male. But I’m not particularly loyal to the populations representing either one of these traits. If I WERE to pledge my loyalty to white people or to men, I’d be labeled a racist or a chauvinist. Rightfully so. It’s what I’d be. I’d be loyal to these two facets of my character just because they were facets of MY character. That’s a bad thing.
But when a person pledges his loyalty to the U.S.A. (as we seem all to be doing today so readily, to the benefit of miniature American flag-smiths across our great land) he is called a patriot. His loyalty to this arbitrary piece of land, held together by questionably legitimate law, is commendable. That’s a good thing.
You’re not born an American. Just like you’re not born a Giants fan. America’s a big team. Just because your daddy likes them doesn’t mean you have to.
Me? I’m all for America. What a neat place! Freedom of speech? Rocking! Freedom of religion? Tubular! I’m loyal to it, because I’ve thought about it and DECIDED that I like it.
I’m not loyal to it, though, because it’s where I was born. It’s fake. As fake as racism, as fake as sexism. As fake as the notion that Harvard is better than Yale.
Why am I loyal to New Haven, then?
Good question. I like your style. And I love what you’ve done with your hair.
New Haven’s just a bunch of people. Just like any city. It’s really not that special. People in New Haven aren’t different from people anywhere else in the state or in the country. Just a bunch of folks, doing their thing, depending on one another every day.
Nothing fake about that. That’s not arbitrary. That’s something to be loyal to — a bunch of folks who live together. I’m loyal to family for the same reason. Because they’re very real, and I know that what affects me affects them. If I steal my parents’ vodka in 8th grade because this chick that I totally wanted made me do it to prove my ballsiness — It gets back to them. And I lose TV privileges.
So I’m a loyal New Havener. If I were from Chicago, I’d be a loyal Chicago-ster. If I were from New Orleans, I’d be a loyal New Orleans — uh — guy. And I’d speak with a funny accent. “I gawronteee!”
This weekend, think about what you’re loyal to and why. Think about who you are.
And then root for Yale. Because, come on, Harvard sucks.
Greg Yolen is a sophomore in Pierson College. His roommate, Matt, is a worthless human being. Hate him.