Jun 13, 2008

Unaccountably Moved

As I've passed PS 34 in Greenpoint for the last few days, I've noticed grade schoolers in assembly practice mode; yesterday, they were in the schoolyard in little sparkly red-white-and-blue hats while Lee Greenwood's bathetic "Proud To Be an American" blared. I couldn't stick around for much of that on an empty stomach.

But I couldn't avoid today's assembly, which spilled out onto a shut-down block of Norman Ave. It's Flag Day, ladies and Germans (darn, forgot to send out cards, again!). I caught the opening remarks and a flute-trilling reveille by a rather ragtag trio in Civil War costumes from the Greenpoint Monitor Museum. And then the program started: It included the Pledge (yep, folks, they're still saying "Under God"), and then the anthem and a bunch of other pro forma patriotic songs played in cheesy versions with kids' vocals already on them, just in case the actual live kids at the assembly couldn't be heard or dropped a line.

As I started to walk away to the bus stop, my ironic-patriotic appetite over-sated, a song I've never had any special feeling for started up, and this one didn't need the pre-recorded kids' voices at all, as everyone in the crowd--Poles, hipsters, Latinos, women in hijab, flag-costumed tykes--knew the words and sang them out with unmistakeable relish. Yes, it was the one by that Russian Jew who also memorialized Easter and Christmas, Israel Isidore Beilin: "God Bless America."

Under my CHP-strength reflective sunglasses, I doubt whether anyone could see that my eyes were welling up a bit as I scurried off to the bus. As someone who delights in as much as despairs over this country, and who has little truck with the avavistic rituals and talismans of nationalism, I'm hard-pressed to parse those tears. But there they were.

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