Wednesday, September 04, 2002

I was in a store the other day -- its name rhymes with "Wal-Mart" -- and saw a big display of U.S. flags with a sign inviting one and all to "Commemorate Patriot Day." Pardon me? Did the 9/11 anniversary get an official name when I wasn't looking? (Bearing in mind, as always, that most things these days seem to happen when I'm not looking.) Patriot Day? Why did that sign bother me so much?

Maybe because it reduced a day of mournful remembrance to a marketing opportunity. Maybe because flying the flag, although it represents a patriotic frame of mind, is not in itself an act of patriotism. Or maybe it was just being at Wal-Mart that bugged the hell out of me, as it so often does. (Wal-Mart: Where Shopping Is A Baffling Ordeal.")

I'd like to suggest to all those people who plan to display the flag on 9/11 that they should go right ahead. But they should also go beyond the expression of patriotism and perform acts that actually help unite and strengthen our country. Expressions of patriotism sound a little stale coming from people who are routinely inconsiderate to others. It doesn't have to take a lot of time and effort to do. How about using a damn turn signal every now and then? Your intention to make a turn is not a private matter. Your fellow Americans will thank you.

I don't mean to sound all Mr. Rogers about it, but I suspect that the strength and unity of our country have more to do with the way we treat each other than with how many red-white-and-blue ornaments you can strew your front yard with. And I mean in particular how you treat complete strangers whom you'll never see again and from whom you expect nothing in return.

I'm reminded of something said by a comic a few months ago on TV. This was his sign-off: "Thank you, and God bless everybody -- not just America." I remember thinking at the time how brave that guy was to risk being pummeled by one or more beer-brained GWB supporters outside the stage door later.

Melon-scratcher of the day: There's a human impulse to interfere with one another even when there's nothing to be gained by it. Can anybody tell me why that is?


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