Last weekend I ran into one of my neighbors in my apartment complex’s laundry facility; she was taking her laundry out, I was taking mine in. She and her husband live in the building across from mine. Two winters ago, I helped them dig their cars out after a particularly nasty blizzard. Otherwise, I’ve never talked to them. I don’t even know their names.
“You walk a lot,” she said to me.
I nodded and patted my stomach. “I’m trying to work this off. I go up Elm Street” — which changes its name to Pleasant Avenue when you cross from Yoe into Dallastown — “down towards the high school, then I cross over to Walnut Street” — specifically, at Gay Avenue — “go past the Turkey Hill, cross Main Street, and go to Broad Street” — where the post office is — “turn left, go up to the cemetary, cross over to Main Street, take that back down to Pleasant, and head back home.”
“How long is that?”
“I don’t know. I mapped it out on Google Maps one day, and I think it’s about four and a half miles. Takes about an hour and fifteen minutes.”
“Wow, good for you,” she said, leaving me to my laundry.
That’s the basic route. I do vary it up. Sometimes I do a “backwards” route where, instead of leaving my apartment complex toward Elm I’ll leave it toward Orchard and I’ll go into Dallastown on Walnut instead of Elm/Pleasant. (In this route, I take Walnut all the way to Gay, cross it to Pleasant, take that to Main, turn left, go past the Turkey Hill, cross to Broad on Conway, then turn toward home when I reach Pleasant. It’s shorter by about half a mile.) Or, on the standard route, when I reach the Turkey Hill, instead of crossing Main Street, I’ll take a right, take that past the Catholic Church down to a laundromat (roughly, where the sidewalk ends), cross the street, turn around, take a right when I reach Park Avenue, take that to Broad, then to Pleasant, then to home. (This is also shorter by about half a mile. And this one has a variant, too, but I don’t recall all the street names at the moment.)
Yesterday, I did the “backwards” route but, because it was so bloody hot and humid, I nixed the Walnut-Gay-Pleasant loop.
I would say that I did the “backwards” route for no particular reason, but that’s not true. I had a particular reason. I wanted to see if a neighbor at the end of my Walnut Street (which is different from the other Walnut Street mentioned above — it’s all stupidly confusing, even to people who live here) on Orchard was flying his Confederate battle flag.
As I’ve said many a time, I never saw Confederate battle flags in Richmond (where I went to school) and Raleigh (where I lived for several years after college) the way I see them in Pennsylvania. It’s not a sudden thing, either. Nor is it a reaction to the backlash against the flag after the Mother Emanuel massacre in South Carolina last year. It’s not uncommon to see people wearing Confederate apparel, and it wouldn’t be a Saturday here if I didn’t see two or three pick-up trucks with the flag flying proudly from the back. This is Pennsylvania. I’m north of the Mason-Dixon line. The prevalance of Confederate iconography here is bonkers as fuck.
What I was curious about with this anonymous neighbor’s Confederate flag was the emblem emblazoned on it. I’d see the flag in the mornings on my way to work, and I could tell that there was something else on it; it wasn’t just the red-and-blue star emblazoned St. Andrew’s Cross. Perhaps it was a regimental insignia? The symbol of a military heritage society? I could never tell.
No, it was something much more surprising.
It was the snake from the Gadsden Flag. The yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” flag, dating back to the Revolutionary War, used by the United States Navy for a time, since appropriated by the Tea Party in the last seven years as their standard.
I had no idea such a thing existed, a Confederate Gadsden Flag. The symbol of one seditionist revolutionary movement (the Gadsden Flag) superimposed over another seditionist revolutionary movement (the Confederate battle flag). If that flag doesn’t scream “seditionist anti-government extremist,” then I don’t know what does.
And yes, the American revolutionaries were seditionists. The only reason we don’t think of them that way is that they succeeded. Winners are the ones who write history. Had the American Revolution failed, today we’d think of Samuel Adams and Thomas Jefferson and George Washington the way the British think of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
I paused briefly to wonder if the owner of the flag felt any cognitive dissonance flying it next to an American flag. One flag represents a rebel cause opposed to the other. They don’t go together. At all.
Two miles away in Dallastown, I saw something that lifted my spirits. One of the churches had up a sign commemorating Ramadan.
I can’t imagine that Dallastown has a large Muslim population, if it has one at all. But it was nice to see, not far at all from a flag that celebrated a racist and seditionist cause, a message of welcome and inclusion to a religious minority.
A few days ago on Facebook, I shared a picture Sesame Street posted across social media celebrating the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. (Even my dislike of Elmo, the Red Devil himself, didn’t stop me.)
— Sesame Street (@sesamestreet) June 6, 2016
The astronomer in me had some quibbles with the image — the crescent of the moon was backwards, stars shouldn’t have been visible through the moon itself — but I liked the image, especially as it came from Sesame Street. Like I felt a few months ago when I saw the “One World, One Sky” planetarium program at the Udvar-Hazy Center, we may think and believe different things, we may live in different places and have vastly different lifestyles, we may come in different shapes and sizes and pigmentation colors, but we have more in common that we have differences. We share this world, and we have to get along. That’s especially important in the United States where if we want to make our pluralistic, multi-cultural, multi-faith society work, we need to start at the community level and embrace those who are of different races and different faiths (or, like me, of no faith at all) as our neighbors and, more importantly, our friends.
Suffice it to say, even though I’m an atheist and neither a Muslim nor a Christian, I liked the message of this church’s sign.
Also, there were bunnies.
Fluids were required when I got home and a summery cocktail was called for.
I finally found a use for Admiral Nelson’s Vanilla Rum, a joke of a liquor that I bought, frankly, because of the absurd image on the label. (Horatio Nelson was many things — a lover, a fighter, a keen tactical mind — but he was never a bearded, jaunty fellow.) Mix it with Minute Maid Tropical Punch, and the result is something absolutely sublime.
The vanilla comes through, but it somehow morphs into something that tastes a bit like banana. (I should stress, the tropical punch has no banana in it at all.) In short, it was the perfect drink for a not-quite-summer summery afternoon.
Whereupon I took a nap.
It had been that kind of week.