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My American Flag Was Made in China

Here's a story / About Old Glory / And the People's Republic / Where no one's a Tory.

11:01 PM, Feb 10, 2002 • By LARRY MILLER
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I BECAME a flag-waver, literally and figuratively, about 20 years ago. This is also about the same time I started losing my hair, but I refuse to see a connection. Although, why is it more guys on the left have full heads of hair? Alec Baldwin, Michael Moore, even Ramsey Clark. Most conservatives look like Robert Novak, which is chilling news for everyone, especially the Israelis. On the other hand, when a guy on the left loses his hair he loses every single one, like James Carville. Inversely, when guys on the right keep their hair it looks a little goofy, like they have too much--Newt Gingrich, for example. (Is there a similar relationship to breast size? I certainly hope not.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. My first flag came in the mail around 1983 from the Disabled American Veterans along with a booklet explaining etiquette, and thence forward I proudly displayed it from the balcony of my swinging bachelor pad every Federal holiday. (Including Armistice Day, which I still call Armistice Day. Then again, I still shout into the phone long distance.)

Upon getting married, I gave up the Derek Flint digs and kept the flag, and I know I made the right decision on both. When my wife and I got our house and began drinking enough to have children, I bought a new, larger flag with eagle, pole, and holder. After splintering most of our front rail trying to hammer the bracket in with screws, I proudly called my love outside to see the new standard. She glanced at the wood chips on the ground, muttered something, and walked away, but I sensed a hidden pride in her. Unfortunately, it was so well hidden I have still not seen it.

Since then, our kids accompany me out to the front deck every holiday morning to raise the flag, and I always feel a tear in my eye as I tell them the story, once again, of how Fidel Castro personally came to our house and wrecked our rail, and how it is not at all stupid to hammer in woodscrews as long as you're really, really mad at them.

This was all before September 11.

As shaken as we all were, can you imagine the expressions on the faces of those who owned flag stores? One day you're sitting behind the counter quietly doing a crossword puzzle, the ticking of the clock sounding like a middle linebacker walking on rice paper. The next day it's as if someone hung a sign outside your place that said "Free Dates With Kathy Ireland." I wanted a flag for the car, so I went down to our local flag and banner store, Flags And Banners. There was a line in front that took hours, but no one complained. In fact, there was a tacit bond between us, a shared look that needed no explanation. I know lots of folks sneer about flags on cars, but I had to say something, and this was the only thing I could think of. By the time I got inside the store, the shelves looked like a supermarket in Poland in the fifties, and all they had left were cloth ones you had to duct tape onto your windows, so that's what I did.

Taped or bracketed or glued, I was not alone. Over the next few days, roughly ten to twenty percent of the cars I saw in Los Angeles had flags. Remember, that's pretty good for an area where, prior to the eleventh, American flags of any kind were as rare as Windsor knots in the Nation of Islam. My taped-on flags were holding up just fine, but a couple of weeks later, I was in Ralphs and saw a display of car flags with plastic window-brackets, so I bought one of those and took the taped flags off.

(An aside of interest, at least to me: For those who don't know California, Ralphs is a massive supermarket chain, and for many years it annoyed me that their signs never had an apostrophe before the "s". Not as infuriating as "Like I said" or "irregardless," but grating nonetheless. Then about a year ago, I saw a TV special on Ralph's life--no kidding, a special--and learned that his first name wasn't "Ralph" after all, his last name was . . . "Ralphs." Are we clear on this? Feeling a great weight lift from my soul, I shouted the motto of my state and fairly skipped upstairs to tell my wife. Her reaction was similar to when she saw the splintered rail.)

That flag had been on my car about six weeks, when I did something stupid. I was taking the kids to school and accidentally hit the switch that rolled down the window with the flag on it, and it instantly shot into Grantland Rice's blue-gray October sky at sixty miles an hour. In my defense, the kids had made me turn on the Radio Disney ten minutes before, and I felt so pummeled with syrupy pap I was on the verge of confessing to the Lindbergh kidnapping. But that flag went right into orbit, boy, and I felt terrible. My only consolation was to imagine it coming down and lodging in the neck of the manager of a boy-band, or someone from the Berkeley City Council.