For an external outdoor flagpole, one need not necessarily go with the Illuminator Hurricane Series to wit a flagged wind speed of 220 miles per hour plus if one is not in, say, Florida. And I am nowhere near Florida. I am in what Floridians think of as the anti-Florida if they ever think of a place like this, if they even know about what might exist not a few hours north of the Vermont border of the United States of America. I wish for Florida.
I am in Roberval, Quebec, Canada, the long-distance swimming capital of the world, a place to wit there are creatures heretofore unbeknown to me which is called a French Redneck. The French Redneck is very much like the American Redneck we know and love but for the obvious fact it speaks French. I will not even tell you how I landed here other than to inuit (which is a kind of indian here) to the fact that it is on a count of the boy, that lacking-in-character son of mine, who loves America not even enough to put his butt on the line for it, who because I love him enough to put my butt on the line for him have put it so. I am now here and am technically considered an accomplice by the laws of the good country which I love should I ever return which I can’t see because how would it look to the people who share my views and whose sons are not lacking in character? To wit there are days I have no idea what I am doing here. It is an uninteresting and unfortunate little tale, I’ll spare you.
One does not necessarily need go with the Illuminator Hurricane Series, flagged wind speed of 220 miles per hour plus, but I am going with it. I am installing a fifty foot exposed height, ten-inch diameter butt, four-inch diameter top, and while this pole easily supports the fifteen-by-ten-foot flag I am settling for the twelve-by-eight so as not to make the neighbors feel too bad, which still will be tough because it’s spun polyester, the most durable flag material on the market, with sewn stripes and embroidered stars. The beauty of the Illuminator, where usually a regular flag pole top caps out, the Illuminator orbs a fixture to wit powers a 120-volt halogen or 12-volt Zenon to alight the whole shebang through the night, when it will flap over this suburban Roberval neighborhood in a Zenon—I am going with the Zenon—glow.
I am going with all this, because the flags decorating—and that’s just it, flags are symbols and idols and not decoration—the French Redneck porches of every house around us have begun to irritate me. They are of two sorts, mostly the crimson zit of a maple leaf, printed mind you on a nylon scrap, popping in the wind. The Quebec flag I can stomach, four little reproductions of that thing, reminds me of a Webelos badge, and at minimum cloth with stitching. Got some symmetry. With that I can pert deal. I’m all right in general with Canada. Sure, the maple leafs. And then when they speak English it’s all turned around. There’s the sawrys and the way that the first a in two-a words gets backward. The drama of driving a Mazda. But I intend to make a statement this morning when the semi, an actual semi comes down the street with the pole chained to the trailer and the flag folded down and boxed the size of a nice dining room table.
I have already dug and wired the hole and the boy is stirring six bags of Quickcrete in a wheel barrel. Though he is not, as we say, altogether with the program, he understands that he owes me something here. The semi guys help us stand it in and run some support lines to the house and before long we are ceremoniously raising the flag of the US of A, flicking a switch and illuminating it just before dusk when the French Rednecks on all sides, step off the porches, summoned like moths, except French-speaking and Canadian moths instead of the kind you would expect, so in about a round way they’re like exactly what you would expect except different in some small and altogether disconcertive way.
After a few moments all of them are in my yard, standing next to me and the boy at the base of Illuminator Hurricane, and they are all speaking in French. The boy talks to an Asian redneck, who lives right next door. Imagine it, an Asian with maple leafs and Webelos all over his house, speaking perfect French. That is something.
“Ne boo play,” I say. “What? What is it, boy?”
“They seem impressed,” the boy says. “They say it’s a fire hazard.”
“That’s Zenon,” I say, “Less heat than Halogen. Emits.”
The boy says something to them and the Asian French Redneck mouths the word “Zenon.”
I mouth the words “Illuminator Hurricane, motherfucker.”
The non-Asian French Redneck from the other side what knocks on my door at three am, saying something in frog.
“Sawry, eh?” I say. “Sawry.”
He continues. The boy appears. Him and the non-Asian French Redneck talk. I can’t tell you what they’re saying, but I can say for fact that you can hear the country in the way a French Redneck talks. It’s like yak butter or meat jelly. You don’t know exactly what it is but you know it’s there.
“He says the light from the flagpole is shining into his bedroom, Dad,” the boy says.
I study the French Redneck. You can see in his eye the belief that everyone who ever did anything important in the world—invent electricity or the name for a dish of fries in gravy and cheese or the solid-body guitar or went to space, wiped out polio, sacrificed their line for braided-hair virgins—I imagine his belief that everyone who ever did any of those important things was French like him, just like blacks with blacks and Jews with Jews, Peruvians with Peruvians. The French Redneck looks like REO Speedwagon. He wears jeans that are too long on him and a Ducks Unlimited t-shirt. He’s hairy toes. He drives a pick-up.
He says another thing, and the boy doesn’t translate.
“Sawry, eh,” I say. I flick the porch switch, which the Illuminator is wired into.
The boy goes back to bed. I stand at the door until I hear the non-Asian French Redneck’s front door closed. Then I count off sixty seconds, just how long I reckon it takes him to get those jeans off and back cozy into bed. I flick the porch switch again and go to shower where we have this shower head that opens up to a monsoon and the water hits the tub with such force you can only barely make out the pounding on the door. But I have only my upper body soaped down when I notice something I can’t believe I missed before. In the pocket corner of the shower head we picked up from the dollar store just a few days un, there’s a stamp in the metal: “Made in Tehran.”
And suddenly I’m up in the sky, aught from space, seeing my own house with X-Ray vision, the Illuminator casting a shadow of that gorgeous flapping flag down on my roof, and I see through all the Canadian-made shingles, to the bathroom where a turkey named me is standing in the shower, the water kept in by a curtain hung from a rod made in the place where my country is getting its war on next. I snatch it down and reach for my towel.
The boy and I are building a rock garden around the base of the Illuminator Hurricane the morning when the water meter reader comes down the drive. He speaks in French. The boy tries to step in, translate. I put my hand over his mouth.
“It’s around back,” I say. “But they just read the thing to wit a week ago.”
“You don’t speak French, sir?” he says.
“Dramamine,” I say.
“I’m fluent beginner Canadia.”
“I am here from city works. We received some complaints. And I’m sorry to say, but this, it’s against see city code. It must come down.” He looks up at the flag.
“That’s the Illuminator Hurricane.”
“Yes. I am afraid Robervale law is nothing in the residential region over eight meters.”
“It’s under eight.”
“This is at least fifteen meters, sir.”
“You didn’t measure it.”
“I can measure it, if you like.”
“I think you’ll find it’s under eight meters if you do.”
The French city works guy stands there a moment before fishing a tape measure from his back pocket, stepping into my new rock garden and running it up the pole. I rake the red and brown and yellow maple leafs into a pile by the rock garden then sit on the rocks and one by one tear them along the veins, listening to the plinking of his metal tape measure on the Illuminator Hurricane.
“You see, sir, it is almost fifteen and a half.”
“Oh, shit,” I say. “I thought you meant feet. It said on the box it was under eight football fields, American football of course. I’m not Argonaut of Blue Bombering here. It’s all confusing, but I don’t think anyone minds.”
“We are receiving many solicitations on this matter.” A gust of wind whips the flag. “I am afraid it is the law and the rules. If you do not take it down, we will start to fine one hundred and fifty dollars per day. It is an expensive rent for a flagpole.”
“A hundred and fifty per? Let me think about that. Is that cash?”
I knew what this guy was thinking. But it wasn’t that even. I’m just into the spectacular, and if anything in the world is not spectacular, it is a Canadian flag. Run one of them up this pole and it’ll look all wrong flapping in the Zenon of the Illuminator. It just doesn’t carry the weight. And that comes across I guess, which is why they’re all after me about it.
“Let me ask you this: If I hang one of those maple leaf pus bubbles from this pole, can I keep it?”
“We are having laws here, sir. It is not a negotiable. But I may ask you, this is about genitalia? You have big American penis and this is how you show it to us all?” He smiles.
“I’m not going to accept that,” I say. “I will take the Illuminator Hurricane down to avoid you fining me, but until my dick is fifty feet long with a queen-size flag draped off it, a Zenon bulb for a tip, you better take that back.”
Me and the boy stand in the yard staring up the Illuminator Flagpole after the city guy leaves. The boy won’t admit, but I can see that it stirs something in him too.
“Going down to a twenty-five-footer isn’t going to hurt us, dad,” the boy says.
“What is going to hurt us, boy?” I say. “Come on.”
We drive to the dollar store.
To wit the boy makes a stupid point. You can’t go down in size by half and expect it not to hurt you in dramatic effect. And I don’t even know rightly if they make the Illuminator in twenty-five-foot. And what then? Put floodlights on it from the roof overhang? Might as well cross the border and go to jail free. Maybe it’s where we both belong.
I count the Canadian flags on porches and mailboxes and hanging off siding. They might be postage stamps as much as they’re flags. Got zero meaning. A leaf is not a symbol. It’s a picture, a drawing. At best you get nature off it. But you take an American flag and you know an American flag is in the room with you, or on the street with you, or in the neighborhood. You can feel an American flag, especially when presented all fifty-foot Illuminator Hurricane and all.
At the dollar store, the boy wanders the aisles. I tell the woman straight off, “Ma’am, I am not speaking French with you. But I am returning this Iranian flag pole on the count of it’s Iranian.”
She seems puzzled, then twirls it behind the counter like a baton.
“I don’t want to exchange. I’m giving it back. Just take it. And accept my friendly customer-service suggestion to discontinue the stocking of this and all Tehran product.”
“Made in Iran?” she says. Her co-worker comes over and they speak in French. Theirs is not redneck French. Something different. You can hear it in the expression.
The boy appears at my side. “What are you doing, Dad?”
“I’m returning this Iranian curtain rod.”
“Why’s it Iranian?”
“That’s the most natural question you’ve asked in a time.”
“The woman points to the metal stamp on the rod and shows it to the boy.”
“It says, ‘Made in Taiwan,’ dad.”
“What’d you say to me?” I have a look, hold it up to my face and pull it back. “Still don’t want it.” I drop it on the counter and walk out, wait for the boy in the car.
The boy drives. Little piles of snow form peaks on the sides of the road. He slips a CD out of his breast pocket. The CD has a metal ring through it, looped around a silver thread. The CD has an American flag print and the letters “USA”. The bilingual packaging says “Hanging CD / CD Colgante.”
“I got you something, dad,” he says. “It’s not a fifty-foot flagpole, I know.”
“Some kind of decoration?” I say.
“It’s only a decoration if you put it facing out. If it faces you, then it’s just for you. All anyone else sees is the reflective back of a CD. Here.”
He takes it out and hangs it over the mirror. We drive and it swings from the rear-view, slicing the air between us.
“What’s colgante mean in frog?”
“It’s Spanish. It means hanging, or pendant.”
“Why’s it Spanish?”
“I don’t know.”
It was another stupid notion the boy had. It was clearly a decoration. But something about it endeared me to wit I respected its Spanish, the second language of the USA.
“Music on there?” I ask.
The boy shrugs. I pry the metal ring off the colgante with my side teeth. I feed it into the CD player and there’s a long silence while the player tries to read it. The boy turns the volume knob all the way up and then it starts. The “Star Spangled Banner” played on little Mexican guitars, a maraca keeping the beat.
He turns it down, and I slap the back of his hand.
“Jam that colgante, boy!” I say.
We ride the streets like that, windows down so the cool air bites, the “Star Spangled Banner” playing on repeat. I picture myself busting up the cement base of the Illuminator Hurricane with the sledgehammer when we get home. I picture the boy, while I am busting, propping his feet on the sofa and eating what’s called here a Wagon Wheel but is a Moon Pie. Though it seems to be my lot, bringing up things that in the end I will tear down, I start to feel a little good again, riding around like that, picturing only the immediate future, with the “Star Spangled Banner” cranking, with my boy and the colgante.