Flag daze

This year it started at the Sacramento County Fair with a simple Old Navy flag T-shirt.

My husband turned to me and snapped his fingers, grinning triumphantly.

“Got one!”

“Game on,” I replied as my eyes immediately started scanning the throng of fairgoers.

Our friends looked at us, confused.

“Got one? Got what?”

Get this: The 2010 American Flag Game is officially on.

The Flag Game is a game my husband and I made up on July 4, 2001, while flying to Las Vegas for his sister’s wedding. As we sat in the airport at 7 a.m., it was impossible to miss the throngs of people wearing Old Navy American-flag T-shirts—you know, the $5 logo tees that the clothing chain’s been selling since the American Revolution.

Bored, we sipped on coffees and casually started counting the number of people wearing those shirts to commemorate Independence Day.

We’d counted off at least two dozen before our plane even pulled up to the tarmac, and it quickly turned into a game to see who could spot the iconic graphic first. The first hint I had that this would become an all-consuming effort came when an entire family—mom, dad and assorted kids—sat down across from us, loaded down with Cinnabon rolls and all decked in those red-white-and-blue T-shirts.

Over the course of the day, as we made our way to the casino, the chapel, the slot machines and the buffet, the shops and the lounges and finally back to the airport again, we counted more than 200 of those damn shirts.

It was no surprise then that by the time we visited Disneyland in September, just two weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center, flag shirts were everywhere. And while Old Navy dominated the game, there were countless other varieties, too, all worn proudly, with an air of bold national loyalty.

Now, nearly a decade later, our country’s post-9/11 patriotic fervor seems to have dimmed a bit, but the flags are still part of our collective wardrobe. At the county fair we counted at least a dozen, and a week later at a street fair in Locke, joined again by our friends who are now completely obsessed with the game, we ticked off several more.

Somewhere along the way, we also developed a new game system.

The rules: All flags must be on a piece of clothing or otherwise on the body—i.e., actual flags do not qualify. Simply sporting a red-white-and-blue color combination does not count, but extra points can be earned for ensembles consisting entirely of the stars and stripes. A flag shirt combined with the “These Colors Don’t Run” slogan is good for double points. You’ll only get half points for faces temporarily painted to resemble Old Glory, but tattoos—especially those inked between a biker chick’s breasts—are like hitting the jackpot.

So what’s the purpose?

I’ll admit that, on paper, the American Flag Game could seem silly—meaningless, even.

But maybe that is the point, especially on the Fourth of July, 234 years after the United States adopted the Declaration of Independence to signify its independence from Great Britain. (Well, technically, our Founding Fathers approved of the DOI on July 2, but, you know, details …)

A few centuries later, it doesn’t seem to matter if our coastline is ravaged by a British oil company or if, as a nation, we’re denying citizens equal rights under the laws or turning our back on the very notion of immigration upon which this country was founded. Patriotism is a notion best commemorated with pomp and circumstance, fireworks and parades, pool parties and barbecues, the waving of flags and the wearing of cheaply made flag shirts, scores of which were manufactured not in the USA, but in Haiti, China and India.

That’s the American way.