The reason there are so few female politicians is that it is too much trouble to put makeup on two faces. — Maureen Murphy
“Okay, here’s the deal,” I said, as Amy set her purse on the counter. “You pick a trigger word for Palin and one for Biden. When each says his or her word, you drink. My words are ‘maverick’ and the term ‘doesn’t get it.’ Think fast, you only have ten minutes.” Four minutes later, while Amy was still ruminating on words, Kim arrived with a large paper bag full of bottles. Once apprised of the rules, Kim wasted no time. “‘Reform’ for Palin, and for Biden, uh, oh yeah, I got it — ‘look.’” Kim repeated this last word several times to demonstrate what she believes is Biden’s favorite way to begin a sentence. When she was finished with her impersonation, which included several pointed fingers and patronizing “looks,” Kim said, “Man, I’m gonna get hammered.” With only two minutes to go, Amy made her decision — “change” for Palin and “economy” for Biden. Respectively, David chose “Russia” and “Main Street.” Jen, who arrived after the big show began, chose “commitment” for Biden and echoed Kim’s choice of the word “reform” for Palin.
I’ve never been one for drinking games, having always preferred to get blitzed to the beat of my own bartender. Anyway, the only such games I’d seen others play were either unexciting (bouncing quarters off the table and into a glass) or stupid-looking (last month, at my friend Jessica’s birthday party on the rooftop of Saska’s in Mission Beach, I witnessed a bizarre take on quarters that included wedging the quarter into one’s butt crack and “dropping” it into a glass that had been placed on the floor).
My body doesn’t respond well to inordinate amounts of liquor and bravado, and I’d always thought of drinking games as nothing but. David proved me wrong when he told me that one year, he developed an Iron Chef drinking game as a Christmas gift to be given out to friends. The present included six episodes of the show on a VHS tape; a bottle of 160-proof Stroh rum from Austria, festooned with a cheerful pink label that read, “Caution, Flammable”; and two pages of detailed instructions (e.g., if your chosen chef is introduced as the master of some inane ingredient, such as bread crumbs, take a drink; if your chef makes dessert from a nontraditional dessert food, such as eel, drink; if an instant replay of your chef is run, take one drink, but if that replay includes fire, take two; etc.).
I enjoy games in general — the fun, sociable, not-going-to-regret-it-in-the-morning kind. And though the classic drinking games had previously held no appeal, I could think of no better way to enjoy a historic yet potentially boring debate between the old Democratic runner-up and the MILF-y intellectual juggernaut from Alaska. My sister Heather pointed out how far behind the curve I was when she told me that, after the first presidential debate weeks ago, her friend and coworker Scott had said, “Is it wrong that I grabbed a six-pack of beer and watched the debate the way other guys watch the football game?” Tina Fey confirmed my unoriginality a few days later, when she appeared as Palin in a sketch on Saturday Night Live and gave a shout-out to drinking gamers using the very word I’d picked.
As drinking games go, ours was fairly sophisticated. No funnels, ice-block luges, or shot glasses, just nice stemware filled and refilled (especially for Kim and Jen for the word “reform”) with some fine reds. Soon after the debate began, Kim suggested we include “bomb drinks” (when either of the candidates drops his or her trump card — an emotionally evocative reference every politician stores up a sleeve for the recurring moment when one ends up on the losing side of logic). We were all to drink when Biden made any reference to domestic violence or to the tragic loss of his first wife and child; and if Palin used the catchphrase “good-old-boy network” or her new everyman reference, “Joe Six-Pack.” When a bomb was dropped, all glasses converged in the center of the room with resounding clinks, followed by the sounds of laughter and sipping.
Despite our supposed daintiness, the more our trigger words were spoken, the louder and bawdier we became. David, behind on mandatory sips, regretted his choice of “Russia,” an issue that was not raised. “I should have chosen ‘Ahmadinejad,’” he muttered. “She sure does like to say that one, now that she’s learned how to pronounce it.”
“Speaking of pronunciation, we should have made ‘nu-cu-lar’ a freakin’ bomb word,” I said. “Why does she keep pronouncing it incorrectly after all that drama with the phonetic spelling on the teleprompter for that speech Bush’s guys wrote for her?”
“I think she’s doing it intentionally,” said David. “You know, she thinks it’s folksy and more like the ‘average’ American talks.”
“Wow. I guess I have more faith in the average American’s ability to read,” I said. Palin busted a “maverick,” and Kim rushed to refill my glass. We all winced when we heard the words “betcha” and “heckuva.” “So,” I said, “she’s trying to sound like an average Jane and dumb it down for those unfortunate ladies who went straight from middle school to hockey mom. She sounds like a G-rated version of Anna Nicole Smith.” There were nods all around. “Man, whoever’s drinking shots to each wink and mispronounced ‘nuclear’ is going to be hurting tomorrow.”
“Those lines go down every time she gets folksy,” said Jen, referring to the fluctuating graph at the bottom of the screen that tracked in real time the positive or negative reactions of undecided voters of each gender in Ohio.
“Guess the men and women in Ohio aren’t digging the Foxworthy routine,” I said.
The topic of gay marriage came up, and both Biden’s and Palin’s unapologetic opposition disrupted the easygoing vibe in the room. “Why are those lines going up?” Amy shrieked. “What is wrong with the people in Ohio?” A few minutes later, when the lines again rose in opposition to Amy’s emotional response regarding another topic, she said, “I don’t like the lines, they’re giving me anxiety.” Kim and Jen became so mesmerized by the lines, they needed to be reminded to drink after missing two “reforms.”
During lulls, we marveled at Kim’s dedication to the Democratic Party after she explained that, when she’d heard on Meet the Press that the margin of success was uncomfortably narrow for Democratic Missouri senator hopeful Claire McCaskill, Kim sent the woman’s campaign the maximum allowed, $2000. “Wow, we didn’t even send that much to Obama,” said David.
“Y’all, I will eat noodles and ice cream for months to rock the Senate,” declared Kim. “We just sent $250 to Al Franken in Minnesota. I’ll eat Top Ramen for a month; I don’t flippin’ care.” Amy, an activist in her own right, was starry-eyed.
Finally, the debate wound down to the closing statements. Palin pretended it was the media, and not her handlers, who were responsible for limiting her interviews; she invoked Reagan and then talked a bunch about fighting for Mom and apple pie in the Middle East. Biden (triggering Amy to drink one last time with his mention of the economy) touched on his “eight years of the worst regime ever” spiel, made a dig at corporate fat cats and oil companies, and remembered to appeal to the Christian majority by asking their God to bless our country and troops.
With a great sigh of relief, David set out champagne glasses and poured the chilled bottle of Moët & Chandon White Star that Kim had so generously brought to mark the historic occasion. Once everyone had a glass in hand, Kim, who had become our leader due to her superior commitment to the cause, led us in a toast. “To democracy!”