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Jewish World Review Oct. 19, 2001 / 2 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Julia Gorin

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From Flags to Rags -- I SUPPOSE my favorite would have to be the minivan whose owner had attached the flag onto his rear windshield wiper during the spontaneous patriotism that seized the country last month. Wedged between the wiper and the window, the muddied flag was killing two birds with one stone: Demonstrating zealous new patriotism and cleaning the window at the same time.

Then there was the one that must have fallen off someone else's window or wiper and now lay on the side of the highway by the divider where the rest of the trash was collecting. Not quite as interesting a sight as the one in the middle of the highway getting ironed by traffic.

Indeed, here's an innovative idea for creative capitalists for other products sporting the Stars and Stripes motif: As a Part II to the red, white and blue posters, lighters, tattoos, manicures, decals and other paraphernalia that burst onto the scene last month, why not manufacture star-spangled mops, dust rags, Kleenex and toilet paper?

While Americans who know the rules of flag etiquette continue to faithfully shine flood lights on their house flag at night, or else take it in at dusk so as to not have it out at night when it can't be seen, members of the post-Generation X generation stick red, white and blue bumper stickers reading "G-d Bless America" on the backsides of their jeans, in an inverted flashback to the 1960s college campuses protesting the U.S. in Vietnam. The difference is that today it's actually an attempt at patriotism.

As many pristine, bright-colored flags as could be seen hoisted, displayed, hung or brandished about last month, that's how many can now be seen discarded, trampled, crumpled or dirtied beyond recognition. Like a new toy that a child gets tired of playing with and tosses aside, the national symbol has fallen victim to our low national attention span, the significance of this toy's less than dignified ends lost on the public.

When the ignorant well-intentioned aren't compromising the flag through neglect, they're inadvertently using it to compromise the safety of the roads. One truck had a banner spread full across its grille, where air is supposed to get in to cool the engine so the vehicle doesn't overheat. In other cases, I marvel at what must be the superhuman driving abilities of some folks who, rather than hanging a flag poster on one of the rear side windows of the car, tape it right smack in the middle of the rear windshield. More impressive are those expert drivers whose concentration won't waiver even when their cars do, because the cloth banner they've draped over their hood or hung from their antenna comes loose.

As anyone who displayed a flag on their car antenna before it was all the rage could tell you, there are size limitations for antenna flags. Soon after attaching an oversize flag to their antenna, many among the nouveau patriotic find themselves not only without a flag but also without an antenna, the wind removing both and hurling them into the next driver's front window. (Incidentally, the flag belongs on the front antenna, not the rear antenna, so that you lead with it rather than trailing it.) Regardless, this is all quite a change from 1999, when a road trip on the 4th of July weekend from New York to Massachusetts, the country's birthplace, found fewer than five cars on the highway sporting red, white and blue.

Meanwhile, for anyone who doesn't know-like some patriotic teenagers in Queens, NY didn't-a black flag with the letters "POW-MIA" and a white silhouette of a man's head with barbed wire around it is not an insult to the country, asking to be ripped from people's antennas, but a tribute to missing war veterans. Although again, the attempt at patriotism is appreciated.

The same people might also be surprised to further learn that when the pledge is recited, one's right hand belongs over the heart, which is located on the left side of the chest cavity. And any baseball caps or other headwear should be removed during this time.

But such faux pas are to be expected from rookie patriots who, as the more seasoned among us expect, will eventually catch on. We won't attribute any symbolism to the neglect, safety hazards or improprieties for now, assuming them to be symptoms merely of a temporary, external manifestation of what is internally more long-lasting.

JWR contributor Julia Gorin is a journalist and stand-up comic residing in Manhattan. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2001, Julia Gorin