Standing for the Flag
B. Craig Grafton
The old hippie sat in his seat at the stadium waiting for the game to begin. He wore a tie dye T-shirt of many colors, camouflage shorts, no socks and sandals. His long grey hair, what was left of it, was tied back in a ponytail and he wore a red bandana around his head.
Down the aisle came an attractive young female reporter, Paula Periodista, on her first assignment. All excited was she, her hair and makeup perfect, her clothes the latest fashion.
Behind her came veteran middle-age cameraman Glenn. His hair tousled, shirttail out, belly over his belt buckle. He was nondescript, a generic looking type of guy.
"We'll start interviewing people as soon as the anthem is over," Paula said to Glenn. They were there to find out what people have to say about African-American athletes who don't stand for the national anthem.
A young hispanic boy in a charro suit sang the national anthem and sang it beautifully.
The old hippie never rose. He remained rooted to his seat.
Paula spotted him and thought, what a colorful looking character. He should make for an interesting interview.
The anthem ended to the cheers of the crowd and Paula approached the old hippie.
"Sir, would you mind being interviewed?" she asked sticking her microphone in his face.
"I'd be honored," he answered politely.
Paula signaled for Glenn to start filming.
"Your name sir?"
"Mr. Unaverage American Citizen" he responded in all seriousness.
Mr. Unaverage American Citizen she repeated to herself. This is great. What a hoot this will be. My boss will be impressed with this interview. Her enthusiasm was bubbling over.
"Mr. Unaverage Citizen sir, why did you not stand when the anthem was being sung? Were you joining with the African-American ballplayers in calling attention to racial injustice and inequality in this country?"
"No I'm not joining with them."
"Then what sir?"
"I'm calling attention to all this flag waving, national anthem singing nonsense that goes on at a ball game. That's what I'm calling attention to. There's no reason for it."
Well, that's different, thought Paula, a new angle. Maybe I'm onto something here. I should keep this going. See where it leads.
So she asked, "Just what do you mean by that sir?"
"I mean that I'm protesting against all this flag hoopla whoop tee do that's been going on forever. I've been against it ever since grade school and been against the military industrial complex that exploits it all my entire life. That's what I mean by that," he said defiantly.
"Really? All your life?" asked Paula without thinking, forgetting to stay focused on the black athlete issue.
The old hippie's eyes lit up. His loquacious button had just been pushed. "Yes really. All my entire life. I started back in grade school, at the height of the cold war itself, when I refused to stand and repeat that mantra they call the pledge of allegiance. Saying a pledge of allegiance that's something you'd expect in the Soviet Union, Red China, North Korea. We shouldn't be doing that in America. We shouldn't be indoctrinating the minds of innocent school children with stuff like that. Kids should go to school to learn not to be politically brainwashed or be taught how to be politically correct as they're teaching them today. That was what was wrong with this country then and that's what's wrong with this country now, too much political bull." The old hippie was proud of his oration. He held his head up high, chin firmly jutting out as he spoke.
"They want everybody to stand and show respect for the flag. Stand and sing patriotic songs, at a ballpark of all places. For God's sake you're at a sporting event, a ballgame, not a political rally. If you want to go to a political rally, go the Fourth of July parade, a veteran's day parade, a labor day parade. Don't force patriotism on a captive audience at a ballpark."
You know this guy's got a point, reflected Paula. I'm onto something here. I need to milk it now for all it's worth.
"Are you suggesting then, sir, that they do away with singing the national anthem?"
"You bet I am. All that singing the national anthem nonsense started during World War II. I looked that up on the internet. It was meant as a morale booster during the war. Now after 911 they've started singing God Bless America at baseball games for the same reason. It's all part of the military industrial complex's plan to control America. If you have to sing at a ball game, then sing the team's fight song. They all got one. Sing it instead of the anthem. A ball game is supposed to be a place to have fun, not a place to sing about your damn country."
This guy really does have a point, repeated Paula to herself. I never thought of it that way before. I never knew how the tradition of singing the anthem came about. This is fascinating. I learned something here today. This funny looking old guy is actually making sense. Who'd of thunk it.
But she knew that she had to stay focused and tie this into the ball player issue somehow because that's what her boss had instructed her to do. So she redirected the conversation.
"That's all interesting and informative sir, but what about the players' protests recently? Aren't their protests really just like yours?"
The old hippie couldn't help but smile. "Like mine? You have got to be kidding me, young lady. Am I going around taking selfies with fans, getting on tv, tweeting on the internet. These big tough guy football wusses don't know how to protest. They ever take over the dean's office, shut down a university, stand across the commons and look down the rifle barrels of the National Guard. Hell, we stopped a war, brought down a president. What have all their selfies accomplished. Nothing, I tell you, but their own self gratification." The old hippie paused and looked off into space reflecting into his own world of the past. "We put our lives on the line back then. These guys don't even put their money where their mouths are and they all make millions."
Just then another old man came upon them holding a couple of beers. "Excuse me Miss, may I get through to my brother please," he said to Paula while nodding toward the old hippie.
Paula and Glenn made way and let him by.
He started to hand his brother a beer but stopped.
"Hold onto it for me will ya, Brother. I gotta go take a leak," said the old hippie as he rose from his chair, excused himself, and left.
"I hope he wasn't bothering you any, Miss," said the brother to Paula. "He gets kind of wound up sometimes, imagines he's somebody else and runs off at the mouth. I'm my brother's keeper so to speak, so if he said anything offensive, I apologize for him."
"No, he was fine," she answered. But this threw a different light on things. Paula now questioned the old hippie's veracity so she asked, as politely as she could, "Is he okay, uh, well you know, mentally that is?"
"No, not really. My brother's never been quite right since he got back from Vietnam. Took some shrapnel and a lot of drugs over there. Been in and out of the VA hospital ever since. They let me take him out to the ball game today. Thought it might do him some good. So if he misbehaved in any way please let me know so that I can tell his doctor. My brother pretends he's somebody else sometimes. Runs his mouth. Lives in his own made up world."
Paula's news story was rapidly disintegrating.
"Was he a college protester back in the day? He led us to believe that he was." asked Paula hoping against hope that her interview didn't totally implode.
"No, he was drafted and sent to Vietnam back then."
Just then the old hippie returned and stared at Paula and Glenn nonplussed. "You gonna introduce me to your friends here, Brother."
"That's okay we're just leaving," spoke up Paula as she tugged Glenn's sleeve and drug him away and down the aisle.
"Sorry Glenn," said Paula. "It's my fault. I just thought that he would make for an interesting interview about singing the anthem."
"He did make for an interesting interview."
"Yah, but we can't use it now."
"Who says we can't. Look kid, I've been doing this for years. We just edit it the way we want it and go with it. Do it all the time."
And they did. And her boss told her, "Job well done."
B. Craig Grafton is a retired attorney whose stories have appeared in this magazine before. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.