Revisited: Fun with flag disposal

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.

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5 Responses to “Revisited: Fun with flag disposal”

  1. fakename2 Says:

    If memory serves me correctly (and it almost never does) I believe you can take the flag to the American Legion or some similar veteran’s organization (VFW?) and they will dispose of it properly for you for free. Of course, it might be a bit awkward if they don’t believe your story. They may think you’ve had it tied to a tree in the back yard without food or water for years. But you should contact them–then maybe you could mail it to them anonymously, or leave it on their doorstep in the dead of night, wrapped of course respectfully in a nice warm blanket.

  2. Hershel Dyer Says:

    I can appreciate your predicament—each year one of our local realtors places a plastic American flag on a stick, with a business card attached, in the front yard of every house in our neighborhood. The flag is approximately 10×12 inches. The stick measures about 14 inches and both are undoubtedly made in China. I usually uproot mine after a few days, then under cover of darkness place it gently in the trash pickup bin to be interred the following Monday.

    Just as an aside, the late Johnny Carson of late-night fame once defined a “fruited plain” as a charter flight full of interior decorators—Ed McMahon and the audience laughed appropriately.

  3. goinglikesixty Says:

    what fakename2 said… plus… Boy Scouts of America regularly have flag burning ceremonies.

    My pet peeve is the “half-staff” abuse… bugs me to see some flags at full staff and one or two at half just because somebody decided it would be appropriate to lower old glory on a whim.

  4. fakename2 Says:

    Also…I was just kidding about them not believing your story. I doubt that anyone with enough respect to bring them a flag would be suspected of being the person who abused it. And flags become old and frayed even with respectful use. On the other hand, perhaps you could launder it first? At least to get rid of the dead crickets.
    Hershel…I don’t think that counts…because the flags are plastic, they are a “representation” of the real flag, kind of like the Internet headers with the flag. In most cases I’d gladly burn all those if I wouldn’t have to sacrifice my computer at the same time.
    Going…I hear you…I am also ever on alert for people flying some other flag above the American one (hint to flag flyers: If you lower the flag to half staff, all other flags STILL have to be below it. Harumph.)
    And back to Hershel…how timely that Carson joke is. Now it would be, “a plane with Steven Slater on it”.

  5. thekingoftexas Says:

    A flag is a flag is a flag, etc., or as the bard might say, “That which we call a flag, by any other composition, would stream just as gallantly “o’er the ramparts we watched . . .” whether plastic, silk, nylon, 1200-thread count Egyptian cotton or a combination of all the above. Yep, I believe that’s what the bard would say. Any item that features the proper colors and the requisite numbers of “broad stripes and bright stars,” all arranged in the manner of those of the real flag—the one periodically displayed at the Smithsonian—is a representation of that flag and therefore warrants the same disposal details.

    If the real flag should ever be subjected to destruction—let’s say, to prevent it from falling into enemy hands should the District of Columbia be overrun, whether by the extreme left or by the extreme right, we should consider a Viking funeral for the flag on the River Potomac—what a riveting spectacle that would be!

    Timing would be critical, of course, to ensure that the burning Viking ship would sink before ramming one of the Potomac’s bridges. The current is fairly swift in that area—the ship should probably be anchored before being torched, and the usual sacrifice of a slave girl should be omitted. Although that would guarantee throngs of spectators and television saturation, it could possibly produce political complications.

    Steven Slater? Really?

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