Suburban Soliloquy #47

Terrorists, although at this point of time we don't know with certainty which terrorists, have launched a second attack. This time it is anthrax being delivered by innocuous letters through the United State Postal Service. The anthrax-laced letters have received worldwide attention in the media.

It has been my habit to write love letters to my spouse, Ms Keogh, in spare moments at work. They leave my office in Princeton, New Jersey and pass through the Hamilton office to be sorted. Anthrax-laced letters went to television newsman Tom Brokaw, Senator Tom Daschle, and the New York Post newspaper; all three can be traced to that Hamilton office. A fellow suburbanite living here in my Levittown is a mail sorter in the Hamilton facility and was one of several postal workers infected by the poisoned letter as it was shuffled through the system. I am glad to say he is in stable condition and is expected to recover. My letters arrive to Ms Keogh where she works to be read in her spare moments. They are postmarked the same as the anthrax-laced letters.

This kind of terrorism, although new to most Americans, isn't new for us. We have our own, homegrown Taliban, such as the Army of God, dangerous fanatics who are trying to impose their religious beliefs through terror and violence. Ms Keogh is a Physician's Assistant (a role halfway between a nurse and doctor) who works at two different Planned Parenthood offices. Both offices recently received envelopes carrying powder that were alleged to be anthrax. 170 clinics and doctors' offices in fourteen States and the District of Columbia have received the same. Although it was a hoax, it has further strained the investigating agencies, diverting their attentions away from the real threats. Still, Planned Parenthood has been periodically receiving threats since long before the destruction of the World Trade Center. They have been the victims of very real snipers, arsonists, and mad bombers.

Temporarily, what few letters I might write while at the office, I carry with me to Pennsylvania so that I can mail them away from the anthrax contaminated suburban post offices of Trenton, New Jersey. This is to allay the fears of the recipients. Whereas for my countrymen, the threat of terrorists are only newly realized by recent events, for Ms Keogh, from whose companionship I derive my greatest contentment, we have long ago learned the insolence of life to persists in defiance of a sometimes hostile environment. Before anthrax made us forget, West Nile Virus was the concern. Twenty dead birds in Bucks County were found to be infected, by far the most of any county in Pennsylvania. Before that it was Lyme Disease. Still, we manage to squeeze happiness out of existence despite events that try to deny us.

On a larger scale, my country seems to be trying to do the same. Tonight my neighbours watched the football game, sadly to witness the Philadelphia Eagles lose. The World Series is being played out to considerable public fanfare. Some things have changed, but not the ability to enjoy life. In the meantime, many of our local postal workers have taken to wearing gloves, and those in the infected areas are being provided the antibiotic Cipro, but they continue to transport the mails.

My countrymen are showing their defiance of any threat and support of this sad war by flying Old Glory everywhere. It seems almost every house, every car, and every desk at the office is toting Old Glory. That I don't fly the flag bespeaks my nonconformist nature and a distrust of anything that appeals to the emotion of a mob. Also, Ms Keogh is a foreigner, a citizen of Britain, and she insists that we would have to fly both flags.

At every event my countrymen are playing the Star-Spangled Banner, a turgid poem about our flag withstanding the British bombing of Fort McHenry at Baltimore in 1814. Francis Scott Key's poem was put to the melody of a British drinking song, To Anacreon in Heaven, and an Act of Congress made it our National Anthem in 1931.

As a child I was unsure which was our National Anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner or America by the Reverend Samuel F. Smith, which began, "My Country Tizahvee", or so I thought. It was actually My country! 'tis of Thee…, but when I was a child, I thought Tizahvee was an ancient alternative name for the United States. This song has another stolen melody, used by both the Germans for God Bless Our Native Land and the English for God Save the King.

Probably more pervasive is the unofficial National Anthem, God Bless America, launched by Kate Smith on an Armistice Day radio broadcast in 1938. This song, calling for God's grace on the continent's physical attributes and not the political ideals of its people, was written by Irving Berlin, a Russian-born Jewish immigrant. His real name was Israel Baline.

I am sitting at my wife's drawing table in her slowly evolving studio, formerly our living room. While Ms Keogh mucks about with the detritus of her second career, painter, I keep her company, fumbling with my second career, writer. To give us energy to work, we listen to recordings of Benny Goodman and his Orchestra. I am prepared to launch a grass-roots campaign to have Sing, Sing, Sing made our National Anthem. This is a piece uniquely American, possessing all the vim and vigor of my countrymen. True, there are no lyrics, but then it isn't constrained by archaic words that are hard to remember anyway. It also isn't stuffed with maudlin sentiments. Goodman's Sing, Sing, Sing (composed by Louis Prima) reflects my Nation's enthusiasm for our not-to-be-denied pursuit of happiness. People would not only stand when they heard it played, they would be overpowered with a desire to dance.

Bruce Bentzman

This is the forty-seventh 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.
For further reading, Mr Bentzman's book "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman" is available from Amazon.