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And Lest We Forget — The Flag

In this southwest Denver neighborhood, there are American flags flying at the houses to my left and right, across the street, and kitty-corner across another street. It takes a short walk to see another house besides ours without a display of the red, white and blue.

The other day I picked up a prescription at Rite-Aid (now owned by Walgreen’s, or so it's been said) and the pharmacist asked if I had a Rite-Aid card. "Would that get me a discount?" He said, "No, it's a loyalty thing." My high school song ended with "So praise our great victories, and may they always say, that if I ever will be loyal, t'will be to thee Farmington High." So as a kid, my loyalty was demanded by my country, by the prevalent Christian religion, and the high school. It starts early. Apparently it's the drug store now, too.

Displaying the flag is a sign of patriotic loyalty — or is it merely the appearance of loyalty to cover any number and kinds of dirty deeds? Congressmen are often heard to say, when criticizing another lawmaker's action, "I'm not questioning his patriotism, I'm questioning his judgment." Because we dare not question anyone's patriotism. So the question becomes, if an institution, or religion, or an individual demands loyalty in some form — why, if they are so wonderful, do they need to demand loyalty? If they're really so terrific, wouldn't people happily, by choice, stick with them?

Why must the presidential candidates (I can't bear to mention their names, but they all do it) appear in front of a backdrop of flags? So no one will question their patriotism? Or do they think they are assuring the suckers of their sincerity, their wholesome all-American-ness.

I had a big American flag once, used it for a bedspread. But once in a while I'd fly it for irony's sake because I am so un-American. A friend in Sausalito, a German I'll call Fritz, got himself a nice sailboat and took a bunch of us out on Richardson Bay. Fritz went below and came back with his father's swastika flag, a genuine relic of nazi Germany and a clue to his heritage, and hauled it up the mast. So there we were, in view of all the houses on the hills above, sailing around with a nazi's son, swastika flying. Was Fritz being ironic? I doubt anyone saw irony in my stars and stripes, which made it all the more ironic. But there isn't much in the way of irony or humor with a swastika, even if Fritz meant it that way. Which is doubtful if you knew him.

If this country is really exceptional, why do they pound the idea into our heads every day? Why must football games have military jet flyovers?


  1. Marco McClean September 18, 2016

    Re: Jeff Costello’s /Lest We Forget The Flag/.

    My Flag

    I was 10 and then 11 years old in 1969. We lived in Carmichael, near Sacramento, and my stepbrother Craig and I had ridden our bikes to the Metropolitan Army-Navy Surplus store, where I bought a giant American Flag for five dollars, an enormous amount of loose money for a little boy. Paper route money, probably. I don’t remember where I got that much money. I was industrious in pursuit of lofty goals. The year before, I’d acquired a beebee gun through an ad in Boy’s Life by selling Christmas cards door-to-door (and then used the gun to, among other things, shoot out all the windows of a house under construction behind ours in the housing development –that was on Tenth, in Fresno; we moved twice in Fresno and then to Carmichael).

    I brought the flag home, showed it to my mother. She said, “What are you going to do?” I said, “I’m going to use one of Jamie’s Simplicity patterns and use the sewing machine, and make a suit out of this, like a mechanic’s suit, and I’m going to wear it to school.” She said, “How much was it?” I told her how much. She gave me a five-dollar bill, took away the flag, and I never saw it again.

    Craig said, “Told ya.”

  2. Jim Gibbons September 21, 2016

    Okay, do I know “Fritz?”
    Can’t be Klaus, Jane would never put up with that…and it’s not Fitz because he was not only Irish, but with a Jewish woman, and his last name was my last name–Fitzgibbons, though my great granpa dropped the Fitz when he came from Ireland during the potato famine back in the 1840s…you may tell me on my private email…

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