Star-Spangled Banner from Bangkok to Terre-Haute

Friday morning, and I am about to submit my column for publication when… yes, “you got mail!” Seven in the morning on a holiday, e-mail delivery reminding me of the requiem for a postal world, a world in which I was raised.

My chat-friend, Jack, wishes me a great Fourth from a laptop half a world away, somewhere in Bangkok, he says. Probably it was his last message in this star-spangled day, after contacting family and friends from hometown-Indiana, good old USA. There is something about the Fourth of July which has Americans anywhere, and everywhere, so eager to connect.

If anything, Jack is the typical middle-of-the-road American who lives asking himself that famous Rodney King question, or statement, “…can’t we all get along?” His presence twice a week in our “everything goes” chat-room is hardly noticeable in the charged atmosphere of political echoes from the Right and from the Left. But I got to know him a little better, and see in him an expatriate who for almost a decade has been wearing America on his sleeve, on daily basis, defending it and making sure that he does not fit into that “ugly American” slot. Jack, I am sure has been, and continues to be, a ambassador for all of us.

Reading his e-mail this morning I just knew that today’s column still had to be written, or perhaps that it was being written… by Jack. So I will let his e-mail, which I am publishing without his consent, be the contribution to this Independence Day. Jack writes:

“It’s 17:45 Bangkok time. I am looking at the congested river traffic on the Chao Phraya while thinking that in a few hours there will be 80-100 members of my family gathering at my great-uncle’s farm in the outskirts of Terre-Haute to celebrate the Fourth. I think that I miss being away from home on this particular day more than at any other time, and that includes Thanksgiving. This will be my eighth summer away, and counting. It looks like I might be spending one or two more years in Kuala Lumpur. Then, back to the States.

“I need to apologize to you for my sudden departure last Monday from our cyber-chat; I just couldn’t take any more lunacy from those two super-patriots who define arrogant ignorance better than anyone I know. I have the feeling that when they put on their suits, the American flag pins shine over their lapels. I almost feel like they are desecrating my flag, blaspheming over something which I hold so dear. Not just that, but they are doing it with an exuberance that cast aside people like me as unpatriotic bastards, or misguided ignoramus as an alternate best.

“Tell me, Ben, what’s happening in the States? Much of the mail I get from home seems to promote that same jingoistic fervor, those same clichés. It’s as if an ocular epidemic had taken place in the US of A… nowhere else, just in our country. I guess that becoming a self-contained nation with an inwardly looking people, consumers first, and fed by a pale yellow press promotes this type of results. Or, could it be that finding ourselves as the only superpower, it has gone to our heads? Sad, very sad in any case.

“I’d like to think that ‘Old Glory’ is still my flag, but I find it harder every day to have to share it with the likes of Groucho and Ted [two chat participants who could pass for servers at a Mass officiated by Russ Limbaugh]. You understand, don’t you, Ben?

“Have a great Fourth of July, my friend. Best from Jack”

I understand you, Jack. I understand you full well. But rest assured, my good friend, that Old Glory belongs to you, and that your healthy patriotism is something you need not defend.

As to Old Glory, we have no choice but to share it. Many, like you, with pride and honor for the things it represents. Others, pharisaical in many ways, for the power it brings to bear (… scary, yes!)

Thank you, Jack, and a belated Happy Fourth.