We simplify life with symbols - a design or image that stands for an idea too hard to say every time -- the dollar sign, the asterisk, the cross.
One of our great symbols is the American flag - 13 red and white stripes corresponding to the number of original states, on a rectangular piece of cloth, one corner blue with 50 white stars for 50 states.
You see the flag everywhere now. What so proudly we hail. It means the World Trade Center happened to all of us.
"We're proud to be Americans" say flags on front porches in small towns across the country.
Some homes seem to have been built to fly the flag. It wouldn't be complete without it. Just perfect.
"We're American, too" say the flags inelegantly glued to city apartment windows.
The declaration of patriotic intent is everywhere, the simplest as persuasive as the displays where one was considered not enough.
Rockefeller Center, with 150 beauties, is in show business - a stirring sight, although it is unlikely that management there loves our country more than the owner of the smallest small business displaying just one.
The Annin Flag Company makes most American flags. They have more business than they can do, now.
You don't have to go far to Annin to buy a flag though.
Flag sales are a street-corner cottage industry. Furtive operatives set up shop; to them, the buck means more than the banner.
The colors of our flag and the numbers of stars and stripes are ordained, but there is no rule regarding dimension.
There are tiny flags on sticks - made in China or Taiwan.
One grand flag is so big on a building in New York that it had to be continued around the corner.
Another beauty hangs from the side wall of a firehouse.
And you wouldn't want a dirty flag, so they washed theirs.
Everyone wants to be associated with the flag: America and Yale, America and Episcopalians, America and JP Morgan, America and Maxell, America and The Ritz Tower.
There are, inevitably, people who are more anxious to appear patriotic than to be patriotic. They tread a fine line between patriotism and commerce. The flag is everywhere in close proximity to a business interest.
It sells shoes, and shoe repair, women's dresses.
The American flag invites diners to foreign restaurants –Japanese, Italian, even Afghan.
There is an official flag code but it is routinely ignored.
It is not proper to use the flag as a tablecloth.
It is not to be used as an awning or a canopy or plastered to the hood of a car.
The code says the American flag is not to be used as decorative clothing. Some find it irresistibly fashionable, and we are more amused than mad.
This is how The Star Spangled Banner was meant to be flown - on the end of a pole of its own, free to wave majestically in our own free air.
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