Let me start by saying that I love America. I love the amber waves of grain, the purple mountains, the Green Mountains and the Orange Bowl. I’m crazy for fruited plains. Skies that are spacious are among my top ten turn-ons.
And I also love and respect the American flag. Its asymmetrical design and color absolutely pop off the surface. Its lines are clean and simple, a graphic design concept that was mocked at the time but which now represents all the best in flag composition. I admire the integrity of the Founders, who felt it was best not to sell the back side to corporate advertisers of the day, despite a great offer from Travelocity. I also think cloth was an excellent choice, as opposed to the buffalo hide that was originally considered.
So when I found a discarded flag in the shed of a rental house I was cleaning out this weekend, I was a little uncertain what to do. I knew there were strict rules regarding proper disposal of Old Glory, and I could tell that my previous tenants knew nothing about these rules, as the banner lay in a crumpled heap next to a one-armed chair and an old can of latex stain. It was as tattered as its much-scarred forbearers over Ft. McHenry and Guadalcanal, except this damage looked like it was inflicted by a lawn edger.
Wanting to do the right thing, I discussed options with my wife. We both knew that burning the flag was both a highly provocative act viewed by some as treason, as well as a proper method of disposal. We couldn’t do it in our yard though, because a recent drought might start a wildfire. I supposed we could do it out in the street at the entrance to our subdivision, but doubted our mostly Republican neighbors would view this as the patriotic act we intended.
I also remembered that burial was an acceptable course. Again, however, our yard was not a good location, since tree roots make it very hard to dig; the only soft spot was just off the back deck but to entomb it there might lead to an unpleasant reunion with some dearly departed cats.
If burial and burning were okay, maybe other verbs starting with “bur” were actions we could take: Is “burnish” something that would get it off our hands? Could we turn it into a burka?
We started brainstorming ideas that would allow us to continue our clean-up without bringing down the wrath of all right-thinking Americans. Since the idea is to show proper respect for all that the star-spangled banner represents, and since that was pretty much a non-issue because of its three years already spent inspiring mostly crickets, I thought we might be able to discard it with the rest of our household refuse. Maybe if we did a little ceremony before hand – I thought I had some sparklers left over from Independence Day – we could lay it respectfully across the top of the bin.
“That’d make it look like a casket,” a tactless friend noted. “The garbage men might think there’s a veteran inside.”
Maybe we could unravel the threads so we were left with only red, white and blue fibers, which wouldn’t be so problematic. We could enlist a local seamstress to create a more-respectful new life for the fabric – perhaps a bikini, or an Uncle Sam hat, or some kind of super-hero costume.
This looks like the time I should turn to the Internet for some advice. A site on American flag etiquette notes that it should be lighted at all times, never be “dipped to a thing,” and not used for advertising. It shouldn’t be used to deliver anything and should never touch the ground. When it’s no longer fit to serve our country, it should be destroyed by “burning in a dignified manner” (i.e., not surrounded by ecstatically dancing foreigners).
Snopes.com references the “dignified way” without much further guidance, other than to say it shouldn’t be “dumped into a trash can amidst of bunch of rotting garbage”. Might it be allowable if the garbage is fresh?
Probably the best option I could find is also the most expensive. A firm called American & State Flag Disposal will also accept municipal and local government banners, as well as those from “friendly foreign governments.” (You’d think they’d love to get their hands on an Iranian flag, just for kicks). Fees are on an escalating scale: $5 for a small flag, $10 for a flag larger than six-by-ten, and “contact us for individual quotes” on those super flags you see over car dealerships.
But what about the pole? The flag I found was wrapped around a two-piece aluminum shaft that was capped with an eagle. Doesn’t the pole deserve an equal measure of regard, serving as it did as the supporting base for that most revered of American symbols? Partial burial seemed like a workable choice, and if I did it vertically and spaced them just right, I could string up a badminton net between the two. If I dubbed it the Rock Hill Memorial Net Sports Park, I could be killing two birds with one stone, three if you count the eagle.
While still pondering what to do, I was watching ESPN and caught the highlights of Usain Bolt setting his new world record in the 100-meter dash. While he celebrated his victory, he held the Jamaican flag high over his head, then waved it to the crowd, then wrapped it around his shoulders like a shawl. I know the Jamaican flag is nowhere near as important as its American counterpart, but it did remind me of how U.S. Olympians literally wrapped themselves in the flag, even after some pretty mediocre performances in Beijing. Perhaps I should hold onto this one in case I qualify for the 2012 Games in London (I heard they’re considering adding speed-typing as a new event.)
In the end, I took the easier, least expensive route, and let it lay in the back seat of my car while I remained frozen with indecision. The flag is currently on tour with daily trips between my home and office, and occasional stops at gas stations, convenience stores and Starbucks, where I believe an endorsement deal may be in the works.
Post Script: Reading back over this piece, it occurs to me that I should’ve added my great respect, thanks and admiration to those who have fought in defense of our nation. It’s the sacrifice and bravery of our vets that give us the freedoms we enjoy today. Those who are fallen deserve the ultimate esteem of a grateful nation. And to the vets who walk among us – you’re doing a terrific job of administering health care to our beloved pets, though I’ve got to say you could’ve done a better job with my cats.