Friday, July 04, 2003

The Atrophy of an American Symbol

Back in the ’60s, Independence Day on Stevenson Avenue in Akron, Ohio was probably no different than it was in any other town throughout America. In fact, I suspect it wasn’t much different than it is here in Powell today. More than the fireworks, I remember the Fourth of July and the American flags that suddenly appeared in the early morning hours on almost every front porch in our neighborhood. Back then, the simple act of displaying the flag on Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, and Veterans’ Day was a show of patriotism.

I suppose Old Glory’s popularity has grown since my childhood. The flag, its likenesses, and colour scheme have appeared nearly everywhere—matchbook covers, clothing, lapel pins, shot glasses, ball point pens, football helmets, notebooks, bumper stickers and used car lots. And these days it seems the flag is getting more exposure than ever, thanks to the events of the Gulf War, September 11, Afghanistan and most recently the evolving boondoggle in Iraq. Yet, back in the ’60s when the Vietnam War was producing more occupied American body bags than any other conflict since, I find it hard to believe that the country’s barometric pressure for patriotism was any less than it is today.

So, what’s with the flag and the deluge for displaying it everywhere on anything at anytime?

Has flying the American flag beyond the flagpole become a trend? Have we become paranoid, thinking that if we don’t display Old Glory in some form we might be thought of as un-American? Are we so insecure that we need to constantly remind ourselves that we are Americans in these tasteless presentations of our national colours?

Every time I see the likes of a Ford Taurus with a little American flag (in multiples at times) waving frantically above the car’s roofline, I’m reminded of a circus or parade. I say, let’s leave such tacky decoration of our vehicles and other personal belongings to the Shriners in their tiny cars that ebb and flow in any given community parade. Further, it’s disheartening enough to see Old Glory burned in the streets of Baghdad let alone ripped to shreds as the result of 500 miles of Interstate driving at 70 m.p.h.—regardless of its size.

Is it a wonder why we hear of America and Americans being despised throughout the world? We constantly wear our patriotism on our sleeve with relentless visual and verbal reminders of America’s greatness to the world even when they surely know of it. What great person remains great when they keep on reminding everyone around them how great they are?

If Jesus dwelled amongst us here in America now, would his pickup truck have a “God Bless America” bumper sticker on it? While sitting under a giant cottonwood tree just off of Lane 8 all day, would Buddha wear a sleeveless t-shirt with a big American flag on it? And finally would Plato quote Socrates as he sipped from his huge, 48-ounce insulated coffee mug with Old Glory screenprinted on its plastic exterior? Perhaps we would all do well if we were to contemplate the fine line between patriotism and narcissism the next time we are overcome with a sudden urge to show our national pride.

I often ponder the sacredness of the flag when one can buy it (in numerous sizes) at places like Wal-Mart. And it seems the more available they are, the more irresponsible we are regarding their proper care. Once I found a soiled and tattered small flag that probably broke off from one of those “flag-decorated” cars at a busy intersection in Gillette. It was laying on the side of the road with all the other litter that was mindlessly discarded from cars occupied by thoughtless drivers and their passengers. Where is the reverence in this scenario? What if the sacred and consecrated holy eucharist was found right next to the Milky Way candy bars at the local mini-marts? Would it be as sacred? Surely no priest would stand for that.

Most of us will never forget JFK’s famous speech about how we should ask what we can do for our country. I wish our President today would deliver a message with the same impact, challenging all of us to monitor our national enthusiasm and to speak softly especially when travelling abroad. I’m reminded of a joke I heard in New Zealand: You can always tell an American, but you can’t tell him much.” Sometimes our fanatical patriotism reminds me of an oversized TV set in a tiny living room.

Like those summer days on Stevenson Avenue, I still enjoy the home front show of flags on these national holidays despite their worn out use everywhere else. I don’t have an American flag for my front porch and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get one assuming the current glut of red, white and blue continues—America need not shout any louder. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that this country will continue to be blessed as it has been in the past, especially our troops who loyally serve without questioning the judgment of our national leadership. More importantly, I hope other countries that are currently experiencing turmoil, genocide, and economic strife are blessed through it all, especially those where our own less-than-perfect foreign policy has failed them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Barking Dogs

The arrival of summer is always a welcomed event with the exception of two elements that I’ve come to associate with the season and living in the city proper of Powell. It would be wonderful to go on writing about all the positive things of summer and living in this part of Wyoming, but no one wants to read about nothing that isn’t happening. So, it’s on to the business of complaining.

Besides the fact that we have a considerable mosquito population here in the middle of a desert, I see another problem that gives me even more concern than the excessive water consumption in a desert town that could be plopped down in the middle of Indiana and not one Hoosier would notice.

Although everyone has been going on about SARS lately, the epidemic of dog ownership is bringing me to my knees. Everyone seems to have a dog. In particular, a barking dog. And so my real concern is directed at those citizens who turn their dogs loose in their tiny, fenced-in city lots so it can bark and bark and bark. Although summer is still down the road, my bedroom window is finally and permanently cracked open (at least) until late September. Yet, on this particular Sunday morning (April 13 to be exact), I was awakened by a neighbors excessively barking dog at 5:00 a.m. I repeat, summer isn’t even here, not a mosquito have I seen, and I’ve already encountered the true scourge of summer—barking dogs on early Sunday morning. I think this is a bad omen.

And when I hear such a dog violating my quiet time, I instantly start referring to it as “stupid dog.” Yet we all know who is really stupid in this scenario.

Laying in bed in an attempt at the novel idea of sleep once again, all I can think of is, “What kind of person can allow their dog to go on with a litany of barking and not be annoyed themselves? A stupid and inconsiderate one to be sure.”

Perhaps it’s the person who has big plans (or not so big plans) for the day and needs to get an early start for work or recreational purposes. Sure, they know it will be a nice day so the last thing they do before they jump in their pickup is leave the dog in the backyard and forget to consider the neighbors whose bedroom window is only across the street, alley or small strip of yard that separates the two homes. I suspect these are the same people who believe their children are the smartest in their class and would never do anything wrong.

Than their are those dog owners who let their dog out at a civil time in the evening to take care of its business only to forget about it as they proceed to get themselves tanked that night inevitably leading to their passing out on the couch with the TV or stereo still blaring. Ah yes, ignorance truly is bliss in this scenario. Barking dog? Hell, they don’t even hear the police banging on their door when someone like me complains. My question here is, how many six packs does it take to make a dog (seem) quiet?

I often wonder if I’m just overly sensitive about this subject. Are their others like me who are fed up with barking dogs? Whatever the fines are, whatever law enforcement there is about barking dogs, it’s not enough.

Maybe I dreamed it or maybe I read it somewhere, but isn’t the amount of barking by any given dog indirectly related to the intelligence of its given owner? That being the case, perhaps anyone who has the police called on them because of a barking dog should automatically be forced to take the G.E.D. exam on site. I suspect many would fail it. And given the fact that they would fail, along with a stiffer fine, I propose they be stripped of any titles, certificates or degrees in their possession at that time—including their driver’s license.

The sad thing about my letter is that the community of barking dog owners probably won’t or can’t read this—hopefully the former.

I used to like dogs when I was a kid, in fact my family had one too, but it never barked excessively or on and on into the early morning. I’m trying not to be prejudice about dogs. I still like them, but these days it’s getting tougher. Lately they remind me of rap music—annoying, obnoxious and in my face.

Seems like I remember a few years ago where someone was going around poisoning the local dogs in Cody, was it? I didn’t give it much thought back then, but now I suspect I understand how that unfolded. Although such acts are wrongful and despicable they are mostly misdirected.

Postscript: About a week ago the home next to mine exchanged owners. The new owners have two dogs that bark at me everytime I step out into the back yard. I sure hope they get used to me.

Postscript2: Two years later and no such luck regarding the situation next door. Their dogs are as retarded as they get while their owners are beyond inconsiderate. There went the neighborhood. The only reprieve is they don't leave the hounds out all night, but on several occasions have let them out early on weekend mornings to give the neighborhood an unappreciated wake-up call.