Thursday, July 13, 2006

Slim burns the flag

This is one of two columns I repeated in the decade or so that I was a columnist. It first ran in the Press-Republican of Plattsburgh, NY, in 1990, then again in 1999 when it became relevant again, and is copyrighted to them.

I've been kind of watching to see if I wanted to run it now, but since Garry Trudeau seems to be providing an illustration for it today, well, here it is ... (How long ago was 1990? I had to explain who "Cliff" was.)


It was about 7:30 in the morning, July 5, 1970, when Slim decided to burn the flag.

The rest of us were asleep, recovering from a day-long celebration of the Fourth that had included barbecued chicken, rock and roll music, firemen, policemen and dog catchers.

It was a bodacious party.

Slim was over at 7:30 in the morning to see what was happening, and decided it would be a good time to burn the flag. Slim didn't live at our house, but he was over all the time and no one wanted to tell him to get lost.

You know Cliff, the guy on "Cheers?" OK, picture him about 18-years-old, wearing sandals, shorts and GI T-shirt and a string of beads around his neck.

That's Slim, and, like Cliff, nobody could really dislike him. But, like Cliff, he made it pretty hard for anybody to like him, either. He was just there all the time, being an expert and having great ideas.

Now let me try to explain the firemen, the policemen and the dog catchers.

The party was a little loud. The party was a lot loud. Someone in the neighborhood objected to our loudness and, I guess you might say, our entire way of life, which involved a lot of music and laughter and what TV Guide would call "zaniness."

So this neighbor just called every authority in the phone book. The firemen came to inspect our back alley for weeds. The dog catcher came to see if our dogs were running around without leashes. The policemen came to tell us to turn down the music. The policemen had a little chicken and we turned down the music.

The next morning, Slim decided the best thing to do would be to burn the flag. Slim figured that he would impress us with what a radical cat he really was. Now, if he had burned his draft card, he wouldn't have been able to get served anywhere, but the flag was still hanging from our porch roof from the day before.

So Slim took the flag down and started to burn it, but it didn't burn very well. It just sort of scorched, and the match burned down and then Slim noticed that his fingers seemed to be more flammable than the flag, so he shook out the match and tried to decide how to get the flag to burn a little faster.

We didn't keep a lot of accelerants around the house, but Slim had some firecrackers, so he took his knife and sliced them up and rolled the black powder out into the bottom of an empty, galvanized garbage can. Then he held the flag so it was half in the garbage can and he dropped a match into the bottom.

The windows didn't rattle, but there was a noticeable bang as the powder flashed in the garbage can. And the idea worked: The flag caught on fire.

So did Slim's eyebrows and mustache. The first people out of the house found Slim stumbling around the front yard slapping himself in the face, not so much blinded by the flash as by the ashes in his eyes. A normal person would have been a little terrified by this experience, and Slim probably was, too, but he was still Slim, so he crowed about what a great idea it was and how he had burned the flag with this dramatic gesture of revolutionary fervor.

The rest of us weren't so impressed. For one thing, it was our flag he had burned. For another, burning the flag was a dumb gesture. However we felt about the war and some other issues, we were all Americans, after all.

But we figured Slim was going to keep on being Slim, even with no eyebrows or mustache and with blisters all over his face. There wasn't much point in yelling at him and getting the place in a turmoil.

Instead, we devoted our energies to polling the block to find out who had called the authorities the day before. It turned out to be this retired professor who thought we were just terrible, disturbing the neighborhood where he had lived for 40 years with our music and our shenanigans.

We realized he had a point. We didn't tone it down a whole lot, but we started popping over from time to time to visit him and he turned out to be a pretty nice guy. He got to know some of us, and we got to know him and we found out we could live together after all.

Which is the way civilized people handle their differences. You try to understand the people you disagree with, and you usually find you don't disagree all that much after all.

As for the ones like Slim, that no one can understand, you ignore them and let them go their own, silly way. You don't make a federal case out of something that was only a flash in the pan.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'd never heard that story. I like it! I could totally picture Slim. LOL