Friday, May 26, 2017

Living thing: relationship counseling for flags and the people who fly them

As Iwo Jima moments go, it was not very dramatic, but you gotta do what you gotta do: yesterday I was enjoying a walk under an umbrella in a tempestuous rain storm when I noticed down the street that the wind had knocked over a US flag that a neighbor had displayed outside next to their driveway. So I picked it up and re-set it the best I could in its brick footing.

"Thanks," said the flag.

Undramatic Iwo Jima moments are one thing. Talking flags are another.

"Hey, citizen," said the flag, "don't act so surprised. I'm a living thing."

I'd heard something along those lines before, back when my job required a nodding (bowing? handshaking?) acquaintance with flag etiquette. But I'd never heard it expressed that way, much less by a flag. I wasn't sure that I should enter a conversation that might serve to have me either institutionalized or sanctified, so I just kept to myself.

"Good for you, citizen!" continued the flag. "Demand statutory evidence! Here you go: 4 U.S. Code §8: 'The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.'"

Which to my mind still did not explain the gift of language. Which, nonetheless, kept on giving.

"So yeah, thanks for setting me up again. I'm not sure that these homeowners here have made adequate or--ahem ahem--legal arrangements for my display. You wouldn't care to make a citizen's arrest, would you?"

I internally retreated to the dictum that a person's home was his or her castle and left it there.

"No big deal. After all, I'm just an American flag." (Did I detect a note of sarcasm?) "You wouldn't believe what people do to me. And I don't mean the burning. That is hateful, but at least it's honest. What I'm talking about is advertising."


"Yeah, it's right there in §8(i) of the Code: 'The flag should not be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.' But tell you what: this weekend is Memorial Day weekend: I want you to count the number of ads in the paper that use the flag to flog their pursuit of Almighty Mammon."

While I did notice the euphony of "flag to flog," I also noticed the second instance of serial colons, which might be--can I say?--a red flag for some kind of health condition.

"Now I understand the code means an actual flag, not a a representation of a flag, but hey: I'm a living thing, not a lawyer. [Pregnant pause] What? No rim shot? Nevermind: Look: I'm a living thing like you are not: I'm a symbol. So can you blame me for taking symbols seriously, even printed ones?"

Another serial colon. Something's going on.

"People just don't get it. They just don't know! They just don't think! They think they're respecting me, but they might as well be spitting on me. Give me Colin Kaepernick's kneeling any old day! At least he's thinking! Since when was kneeling disrespectful? It might not be statutory, but it is respectful. As to respect: look at the first sentence of the preamble of §8: 'No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America.'"

Damn. Four instances of serial colons. Was it a warning sign of something? Apoplexy?

"But since I'm talking, and since some kind of demon cat's got your tongue, I might as well vent: this is the South, right: pickup trucks flying both me and the Confederate flag: together: side by side?"

Whew! Triple colons! Look out!

"What's with that? And these are people that'd be happy to hurt you if they saw you burning me in protest! They'd be exhilarated to hurt Colin Kaepernick, preferably by lynch mob! And yet: and yet: and yet: and yet: that flag: that Confederate battle flag: that flag betrayed me and straight up tried to kill me."

Then suddenly I realized that this was a bad case of hypothermia. The flag was wobbling on its flimsy stand. I pulled the flagpole out of the brick footings and dug out a deeper hole with my boot. In all the mud this was an easy thing to do. I replaced the pole and pushed the whole setup down as hard as I could. I couldn't keep it from getting wet, but I could try to keep it steady.

"Whew. Wow. Thanks for that. What, was I spewing colons again? I always do that. It's a sure sign of flag exposure."

We shared a moment of silence.

"So what would you do? If somebody straight up betrayed you and tried to kill you?"

I figured I might spew a few colons myself, hypothermia notwithstanding. I gave the flagpole one last push for the sake of security and then held the flag out from the pole to let the wind lash some of the water out of it because it was soaked to the stars and stripes and then I left the living thing standing by the neighbor's driveway.

Today I went back to take the pictures. It's sunny. Perfect weather for patriots ;-)

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