A satirical piece written for the Fictionaut Flag Day Challenge in 2010.
While you know that our flag should be cherished and revered, you may be surprised to learn that there may be a few things you don’t already know about the flag or even about flags in general!!! Read on to find out more!!!
Did you know, for example, that flag commentators disagree about the kind of levity acceptable to display in the vicinity of a flag? Some argue that any kind of jokiness or laughter within sight of a flag is just never acceptable. Period. But others argue that some kinds of humor may be allowed, just not unpatriotic humor. For example, jokes about the pope, any ethnic group other than your own, and sex are always in good taste, of course, regardless of where the flag is, and some consider it un-American, and thus an insult to the flag, not to tell and laugh at such jokes, especially when a flag is within sight.
However, everyone agrees that one should never make fun of the flag. Hilarity nearby may be mistaken for making fun of the flag, and when that man over there comes over here when you’re laughing about something totally innocent I just said to you, it will be like talking to some sociopath in a bar who says you were looking at him funny. You’ll say you most definitely were not making fun of the flag and don’t even know what flag he’s talking about (where, actually, is it anyway?), but then the the fact that someone is accusing you of making fun of a flag will make you laugh, and then you really will be making fun of the flag as far as Mr. Ham-hands is concerned.
A little known fact about the first flag is that the woman credited with creation of it was actually an uppity needle-wielding wench who first stitched up a frighteningly realistic representation of a python engorged with some kind of prey and about to strike and devour a tiny chick—one could almost see that little fellow shaking. But what does it mean? the soon-to-be-father-of-our-country said, I mean, aren’t there circumstances in which that might be open to interpretation? Look, she said, I’m not asking you to wear it, do you think it’ll do or don’t you?
The flag should be taken down at dusk and stored in a cool, dry place. Indoors. Period. It is acceptable to store the flag where medicines and perishable goods are stored as long as such things are kept at a respectful distance and salt is scattered in a circle about the flag. Some flag aficionados think that keeping headache medicines close to the flag works as well as the salt for whatever it is that the salt is supposed to do, but that is an unacceptable contemporary corruption of true flag-keeping.
Once the flag is shelved, no one may go near it until one hour—exactly one hour—before dawn, at which time the person or persons responsible for ceremoniously taking the flag out of its bed and raising it should reinspect the flag to make sure it has not suffered some kind of indignity overnight that must be promptly reported to authorities who will take over from there. Disrespecting the flag is not OK.
How about something with simple colors and shapes, he said, people like simple things, complexity is just confusing. Like your underwear, she said. My underwear isn’t confusing, he said. Not what I meant, she said, and besides, does it even really matter what’s on the flag? Isn’t it the nature of a flag to incite vague but thrilling fantasies about group identification, fantasies that will make you do things you’d never do if you were in your right mind? I mean, a flag can mean anything. No, no, no, he said, you got that wrong: a flag means everything. Hunh, she said, same difference.
A “flagpole guy” (the official term for persons responsible for raising the flag) must hold the folded flag carefully with a flat edge of the fold—never, ever a point–facing outward to the east—and that’s east, not southeast or northeast or some variant thereof– until consensus has been reached about whether the sun is actually up or not—a discussion that must be had every day–at which time, the flag may be carried—with stately high-stepping—to the flagpole.
While levity is allowed once the flag is up, it is totally inappropriate when the flag is in its to-and-fro, when only severe gravity will do. It is sometimes helpful for flagpole guys to imagine that they are at the funeral of someone they really couldn’t live without. And sometimes, of course, they actually are.
A flagpole is not a Maypole. It does boggle the mind, doesn’t it, that if you take one stick away from people they will find and use another stick not intended for the purposes of the stick they have been deprived of, as if sticks just mean anything they want them to mean! Dancing around the flagpole is a barbaric custom, punishable these days, thank god, by public whipping. When such whippings are necessary, it is recommended that parents take their children to the affair and instruct them in proper deportment and hygiene, subjects associated with the flag—and with public whipping–since time out of mind. There is nothing quite like a festive public occasion involving the flag for opportunities to reveal the straight and narrow to young patriots.
OK, she said, I agree that assumptions about meaning may not be so problematic in most circumstances because we would have to spend far too much time in minor disputes and sitting on endless futile committees discovering that even the simplest words do not mean the same thing and people want to talk about them over and over and over, and so on, don’t you think? It’s like a heuristic, she said, like if I think you are beneath contempt—which, of course, you are not, and which, of course, I don’t think you are at all—I’ve saved myself some time by not having to think about you at all unless I see you at church or we get married or we are on a bus together or you have something I want or something like that. Two words for you, he said: don’t start.
One must never, ever wipe one’s hands on a flag, and this wouldn’t even be a problem if people weren’t so lackadaisical about getting the flag out and up at picnics. If one is eating fried chicken and sufficient napkins have not been provided by one’s cute hostess (or host), it is considered acceptable to lick one’s fingers and even wipe them on the shirts of one’s buddies rather than to grab any nearby flag or flag-like object or pelt or skirt. The fact that flags today are made of special materials purported to repel stains and bullets should not be construed as permission to treat the flag like some common household object or article of clothing.
Should one ever wash a flag? Even if a flag is dirtied with barbecue sauce or other such substances, civilians should never ever wash a flag. In special circumstances flags that have become dirty despite strenuous and costly efforts to make them eternal may be sent to people in other countries who may use them for tents or tent-flaps or parts of lean-tos. Give a man a fish and he has dinner for the day. Give a man a flag and he’s got something to really get up under when it rains.
The use of flags in wartime, of course, has a long history, for flags may be used to identify one’s compatriots or even to announce one’s intentions or merely frighten the enemy. One doesn’t need to watch Japanese epics to know that a whole lot of flags in the right location can indeed be scary. Flags on short poles have even been used as weapons! Regardless of past practice, the point man must never be made responsible for the flag. Period.
As the flag is raised, civilians must not stand about in leisurely or chaotic ways but must instead stand as erectly as possible and form a circle, though holding hands is not recommended. Those present must avert their gaze as the colors are raised, for the whole apparatus of flaggy things must remain a mystery guarded carefully—and, if necessary, with one’s life—lest heathen throngs learn the secrets of our mojo and lead us down the path of chaos with flags, flagpoles, and flagpole raisings that look and even smell real but are not.
A vast literature is being developed in the debate over the use of flags in relation to people who may or may not be terrorists. Since terrorists tend to look like people who are not terrorists and to live in places where people who are not terrorists live, there is no strategic way to identify so-called “friendlike persons” who might be allowed to approach flags, inquire into their history and use, admire them, and even, on occasion, touch them. Briefly. But how can you ever know? What if a deceptive terrorist was trying to touch your flag or actually touched it? And why should we be the ones who have to identify ourselves? It’s bad enough that we drive around in vehicles that could never be confused with civilian forms of transportation. Who the fuck knows what a clear and present danger is anymore? More than ever, flags are necessary.
If the flag has become damp during the day, it is recommended that someone iron it or put it in the dryer with old tennis shoes.
It is generally recommended that during routine military activity large, dress-up-kinds-of flags be left in a safe location in the keeping of a person whose sole function is to protect the flag from any danger posed by our enemies or our own personnel.
Despite dogged pursuit, one has not been able to track down the origin of the tradition that the flag must be taken down at night unless a floodlight is shining on it. Who knows what people did about that with the first flag. People sometimes leave their Christmas lights up all year, though, of course, the flag is not merely decorative, although perhaps Christmas lights aren’t decorative either.
Surely Jesus would be happy to see those lights, and if he is floating aimlessly above, he might just know which neighborhoods to home in on. Which now that I think of it is probably why some people with a fondness for Christmas lights also often have things in the freezer with which to feed accidental guests and inflatable mattresses in case there aren’t enough beds in the house when people drop by and have too much to drink. Jesus would probably marvel at the sight of a freezer stocked with all kinds of wild game and tater tots and pizza and cream pies and many things that can be fried. No need for all that foot-washing this time around!
The flag is especially significant for those in situations in which it’s not clear what’s war and what’s not, what means something, and what doesn’t, or when something—death, for example—clearly means something that makes other things seem to mean nothing. Why does fear always taste like metal? Brisk flag-raisings are thought to release endorphins and dispel any lingering sorrow and anger one might feel when one’s friends don’t return or when one has seen one’s friend or friends blown into bits that must then be collected and left to slide about in unnecessarily capacious caskets on the way home, where one could just as well be delivered in a package and where you have somehow become a flag that will be given to your family or whoever shows up as if your life is just a symbol, and all for what, just because we are here and we have to be here again tomorrow our bodies just screaming at us things they know that we cannot even think.
Materials resembling those of the flag should never be made into petticoats or brassieres, though men are allowed to wear flag-like underwear on days of national importance.
Who are you to tell me don’t start, she said. Here’s another way to get at it. We’ll have this war and then we’ll have others and we’ll think whatever flag we have means the same thing and represents some kind of continuity of values or intention. But maybe it’s dangerous for things to symbolize other things because it makes us forget what things are. It’s bad enough that we become who we think we are through a series of more or less alienating symbolic identifications, sometimes the same ones over and over and over. OK, he said, can you just whip up a flag that doesn’t do all that whats-it? Replicable and visible will suffice.
Did you know? There’s a proper time to burn a flag! Yes, when it’s old! Just like old people, an old flag is referred to as “retired.” Boy Scouts know how to burn flags in “retirement ceremonies,” and who can resist a good flag fire with robust young people standing all around? Of course, it would not be proper to roast marshmallows or weenies at such a ceremony.
Flags can also be retired by—again, just like old people!—burying them as soon as they just get too old! Most people nowadays think it’s better to just go ahead and burn than to bury. If you bury things, you have to remember where they are, and who has time for, like, remembering things from the past? Also, anything buried can be dug up and desecrated by dogs, vampires, or boys who are not Boy Scouts. Finally, it’s just more cost-effective to burn and forget.
When thinking of flags, one may wonder: why cloth instead of, say, metal or wood? Some historians think that the answer is obvious: optimum weight and portability. However, it is very possible that flags are made of cloth because they were originally made from women’s skirts. How ‘bout that?
A well-known sexologist from the time before everyone was a sexologist when sex was actually still interesting, in a mind-boggling trip through things so nuanced or absurd you cannot believe he is not making this shit up, in sentences of such length that only scholars can read them now (I mean, I found the book on the sidewalk), discusses at length the ways, historically, of course, the sight, or even the anticipated sight, of female pudenda has been considered generally awesome and often magical and scary.
He reports reports (in manuscripts later destroyed in the bombing of some library in some war) that certain peoples from whom some of us are descended, in a moment foreshadowing American ingenuity, would often go into battle with their women positioned in front of them raising their skirts to expose themselves and to frighten, and perhaps confuse, the enemy. This practice repeatedly proved unsuccessful and was eventually abandoned when, except for pubescent females who did not yet know how to cook, the female population was nearly decimated and women—perhaps through their own cunning arguments which are always better and just more audience-friendly than men’s if the truth be told–were discovered to be more useful for village life than for war. Hence, military fronts are called “fronts,” flags are made of cloth, and until modern times, women were made to sew flags and send them off with their men as sheila proxies.
The flag is playing an important new role in our troops’ valiant efforts to win hearts, minds, and stomachs in poorly defined hostile areas where even the locals are confused about national boundaries and which occupying force has rebuilt the roads of which previous occupying force. While indiscriminate waving of the flag, even on a small scale, is not recommended, the practice of “flag flashing” has recently gained popularity as a way of identifying and befriending those who may still be genuine non-combatants.
In areas of Afghanistan that may not be named for purposes of national security, troops approaching buildings on foot have been instructed to pause every fifty feet so anyone with a free hand can hold up a slate-like flag studded with flashing LED lights. This serves profound strategic purpose. If the flag-flashing draws fire, we are absolutely certain that we are not welcome and it’s always better to know that, isn’t it, than not to know? If the flag-flashing doesn’t draw fire, we are not yet certain that we are welcome, but if it turns out that we are welcome, we will have fascinating toys to leave behind as gestures of good will. And what a show of American ingenuity! How ’bout that?!
Did you know? If the moon is out and a flag is left up all night and you see it your teeth will fall out.
Flag-flashing is a heartily recommended—and often required–procedure even if men with rifles and more cumbersome devices of death are pacing or hunkering down atop buildings you don’t even need binoculars to see. If said men wave their weapons somewhat in the air upon seeing the flashing flags (oh, how they must look like a swath of mutant fireflies!) rather than firing on said troops, the mission is generally considered successful, at least for the fifty yards behind you.
I don’t understand why you don’t get it with the symbol stuff, she said. If the self you conceive of being is basically a symbol unattached to anything in any real sense or attached in random ways, you are, like, already dead. And so is everybody else. It’s just a lot easier for people to kill each other if everyone is in a sense already dead. Look, he said, I just asked you to make a flag—it’s not like you have to rip up your skirt!
We do know from past experience, often of an unhappy-making sort, that the practice of exuberantly waving weapons and repeatedly discharging them as expressions of happiness over marriages, the birth of male children, the arrival of fresh supplies, or the departure of invading troops often looks hostile even though it is not, though some people do point out that it is also true that waving and repeatedly discharging weapons with hostile intent may appear to be part of some festive occasion if what you are expecting to see is a party. Either way, you’re just fucked, aren’t you?
Persons responsible for the flag must take the greatest care not to drop it, for, as Freudians, in their whimsical old-fashioned way, tell us, mistakes are rarely truly mistakes, especially in the presence of anything with even a whiff of the symbolic about it, which is generally the case with anything longer on one side than on another. Flag-droppers, along with the flags they have dropped, are sent down river for re-education and a whole lotta choppin’ cane. Don’t ever drop the flag. Period.
Make your own damn flag, she said, I’ll pretend I made it so the boys won’t laugh behind your back, but this is the last time I’m going to act like I did something that you did. Don’t get me started.
Since tired troops are now being buffed up by many of the Facebook generation who not only know a whole lot about killing people in video games not at all unlike the equipment in military aircraft but also know all about friends and think the world is full of them, inexperienced troops must be repeatedly reminded that sniperish silhouettes on rooftops or in windows may signify friendliness OR hostility, and it is desirable for the benefit of whatever higher power you will appeal to when you are in mortal danger and desirable for the benefit of this magnificent, magnanimous, munificent country symbolized by our awesome and bodacious flag, to risk one’s life to find the fuck out if those people are friends, friends of friends, people who can become fans and flesh-out one’s network or maybe just play with you sometime in some MMORPG.
One need not worry overmuch about flag-dropping these days if an assistant carrying a large pan or some such will just hold it under the flag on the way to and from the flagpole, for a flag isn’t considered really dropped as long as it is at least two-and-a-half feet above ground. A large baking sheet may be used for this purpose—you just can’t beat American ingenuity!
Faced with the prospect of possibly hostile friends or friendly enemies, people having a party to which you would never be invited in a million years, or people smiling and motioning you to come on down a road they’ve peppered with IEDs, troops are left with impossible choices, and understandably, from the point of view on the ground, while no one wants to kill as the result of being unfriendly at inappropriate times, no one wants to die as the result of being friendly at inappropriate times.
In such cases, in order to avoid arousing hostilities that may or may not already be there—no one knows–whoever is in charge as determined by who has not already been killed is to communicate—if possible–with a faraway high-tech bunker in which strategic specialists are already tracking the movement of troops by satellite and already know where you are and think you need someone who is not there to assess what kind of shit you are in. Command will consult with statisticians to determine whether troops should flash the flag more vigorously and move forward (always preferred) or just hang onto the flag and wait to see what happens. Remote and safe persons making these decisions for you have algorithms for such things. You guessed it: American ingenuity!!!
Tears shed at presentations of the flag should be tears for one’s country or even tears for the country one is in, not tears for the fact that mortality grinds on rather more quickly than usual in hastily embarked-upon and ill-conceived wars, which are somewhat like deadly versions of bad marriages. If you leave, you feel like you fucked up, and you will feel you totally fucked up if the other person ends up happy and you don’t, which, you have to admit, does grate a bit even if you are a kindly soul, but if you stay, even if you just fuck things up some more, you can continue to believe that all the misery you have invested will somehow have a happy return or that you will be happy when you’re dead. It’s that anticipatory regret thing. Dream on.
Quick: How many American flags were printed on coffee mugs last year? You’ll never believe the answer!!!
No one knows why so much of the literature on the flag is concerned with washing and drying the flag. Did you know? We don’t need to know why we do things, we just need to do them. While civilians should under no circumstances wash a flag, troops on the ground are required to stop whatever they are doing, and to identify local sources of liquid with which to carefully wash and dry muddied—or bloodied—flags even if doing so reveals their whereabouts and draws down deadly fire. Nearby bushes or any remaining low upright structures belonging to friendly or just absent or dead locals may be used for purposes of drying the flag. Even if you are the last person left with your ass hanging out, always wait till the flag is dry before you do anything else–never ever fold a wet flag, and never ever leave a flag–wet or dry–behind where enemies or joker types might find it and do god knows what.
Start planning your flag day celebration now! Get your neighbors involved in making flag-like cookies or crafting revolutionary costumes or making hamburger patties in the shape of the USA! Don’t forget the guns! An armed neighborhood is a safe neighborhood! And women can use guns too!!!
And don’t forget to get the kids involved: you’re never too young to be a patriot, and, who knows, by the time they’re old enough to enlist or be drafted, this same damn war or one a lot like it will just be going on and on and on!