The Last One Standing: How to Pick a Leader

I headed out to the Paul McCarthy exhibit opening tonight with co-conspirator Melinda Klayman. While trying to navigate the heavy crowds, we ended up stuck in between two men who were wearing strange sashes.

To make conversation, Melinda asked if the sashes meant they were in a cult. They smirked and looked at each other for confirmation, and then nodded in agreement.

“Well, then, which one of you is the leader?” I asked.

They looked at each other again, and the tallest one said, “The last one standing.

The shorter one slapped him on the back, laughing, and said, “I can’t believe you still remember that! That’s right! That’s how you choose a leader!”

Melinda and I looked confused, and the tallest one explained. “The way to pick a leader is to have everyone in the group stand in a circle. Eventually, people will start sitting down. The last one still standing is the leader.

I visualized a group of determined men standing in a circle for 12 hours on end, hungry and thirsty and wriggling their fatigued legs to keep the blood flowing. I realized they probably had to urinate into the center of the circle, too, and I hoped this was happening in the middle of the woods somewhere. “How long does it usually last?” I asked.

“Oh, about five minutes,” the taller one said.

The shorter one saw the look on my face and explained. “If we’re all standing in a circle, I’m going to make eye contact with you, and with you, and with you, and I’m going to think to myself, ‘Well, I’m not the leader here,’ and I’m going to sit down.”

“What if not everyone sits down?” I asked.

“I don’t know. That’s never happened,” said the shorter one.

The taller one chimed in excitedly. “No! It’s happened! Then there’s the second round! See, we put a time limit on the circle. Say, five minutes. If, at the end of five minutes, two people are still standing, well then they’re both out, and we start the circle over again without them.”

The shorter one nodded sagely. “Right… because if they’re unwilling to capitulate, then we don’t want them as our leader.”

The taller one added, “One time we had to do three or four rounds of this.”

Melinda and I sat back and took this all in. “So how well do these leaders usually work out?” she asked.

“Very well,” both of them men said. “We’ve never had any problems.

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