Suburban Soliloquy #92







Patriot Act

In April of 1816, Stephen Decatur, U.S. Naval Commander, put forth this famous toast: "Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right, but our country, right or wrong."

It is a curious remark in conflict with itself. Am I expected to support my country or support the principles of liberty and justice that distinguish my country from many others? And so I ponder if I am a patriot? What makes a patriot, one who supports their nation, or the ideals for which their nation was established by former patriots?

Ms Keogh, my more significant other, and I stopped by our post office box while on our way home. Every post office in my country displays the nation's flag, known affectionately as the Stars and Stripes or Old Glory or the Star-Spangled Banner. [1] The nation's flag saturates my society appearing in shop windows, pasted to the bumpers of cars, sewn on to clothing, and it flies in front of every Burger King and used car dealer. This prevalence of flags is not because we are forgetful and need to be constantly reminded what country we are in; it is our way of telling each other that we are all patriots. But on this particular day I saw no flag proudly waving at the Langhorne Post Office.

As we drove by, I could see the flag rested at the base of the staff and was touching the ground. That wasn't right. The rope must have broken.

I wanted to pick it up, but Ms Keogh was afraid I might get into trouble. Her concern was that I would get caught in the act. Perhaps there were hidden cameras watching the scene. With my liberal reputation, the Fox News Network would maybe acquire those tapes and accuse me of committing an act of defamation on nationwide television. So we checked the post box and went home. But it haunted me.

On our way home we began debating whether President Bush is a cunning hypocrite or a simpleton. Ms Keogh believes the former, that he lies and manipulates for personal gain, to make himself and his cronies richer, and that his religiosity is a pose, a con to draw support from the Christian Right. I, on the other hand, proposed that President Bush is sincere in his religious belief, but that he is a simple-minded, a stooge being manipulated by the greedy and by Christian ideologues. In either case, we both perceived President Bush as a demagogue. And here someone calling themselves a patriot, had they overheard our conversation, would have denounced me as a traitor for not supporting the President during a time of war.

Nevertheless, I could not leave the matter of the flag alone. I called the post office, but it was after hours and no one answered. I called the emergency number that I had noticed posted in the post office, but I could only reach a recording. It first said to leave a message and then said, after many rings, "You have been forwarded to a voice mail system, however, the person at 9017 does not subscribe to this service. Good-bye."

I called the Langhorne Police - NOT the 911 number. A symbol suffering defamation is not an emergency. The Langhorne Police informed me that the Langhorne Post Office was not within their jurisdiction. I was advised to call the Middletown Township Police.

I did. The Middletown Township Police told me it was not a police matter.

I called the Veterans of Foreign Wars, but their office was way over in Bristol (8.8 miles) and was told that was too far to come.

At this point I threw up my arms and sulked. Ms Keogh said I should call the local paper and see if it was any easier for them to find someone to take care of that sad flag. So I called the desk of The Courier Times, our local rag, but couldn't get past their taped message to speak to a live person. I didn't feel like leaving a message, not being fluent enough to know how to succinctly phrase the predicament when I hadn't prepared. I also wondered how very long it might be before anyone heard the message and deciphered it.

It has been a long time since I've been in Boy Scouts, but I did remember there was a specific manner in which you're supposed to fold the flag, so I went on to the internet a found the instructions. It takes two. I had Ms Keogh come with me - damn the secret cameras.

We returned to the post office where the limp flag was still waiting at the foot of the staff. "Aren't we supposed to have white cotton gloves?" asked Ms Keogh. True, I've seen the military's honor guard wearing them when they buried my friends, but we didn't have much call for them. Ms Keogh held one end of the flag, even though she isn't a citizen. Ms Keogh, British born, remains a subject of the Queen. We proceeded to fold Old Glory into a star-covered triangle. When it was complete, neat and tight, I left it on the table in the post office's lobby.

In August of 1816, John Quincy Adams, later to become the sixth President of the United States, declared, "I can never join with my voice in the toast which I see in the papers attributed to one of our gallant naval heroes. I cannot ask of heaven success, even for my country, in a cause where she should be in the wrong. Fiat justitia, pereat coelum. [2] My toast would be, may our country always be successful, but whether successful or otherwise, always right."

Bruce Bentzman


1. There is one exception. In nearby Philadelphia, where the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence and launched out nation, there is the B. Free Franklin Post Office at 318 Market Street, a house formerly owned by Benjamin Franklin, the Father of the United States Postal System and it's first Postmaster General. He was appointed joint Postmaster General for North America by England in 1753. Franklin charted the Gulf Stream, solving the mystery of why postal ships took a week longer to reach the colonies than they took to reach England. He was again appointed Postmaster General by the Continental Congress in 1775. The B. Free Franklin Post Office is still there today, the only U.S. Post Office that does not fly Old Glory, because there wasn't a national flag when it opened in 1775.

2. Trans: "Let justice be done though heaven perish."

This essay is the most recent in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"