The View From Long Island Part Ii

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09/20/2001

Manhasset, Long Island

Neighborhood: Across the River, Letter From Abroad

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Outside a Fresh Fields market in Manhasset, there is a parking lot large enough to hold one hundred cars. Now, there are only to be found seven Mercedes Benz SUVs, four Range Rovers, two of the BMW convertibles that the new James Bond drives, one Hummer, three Audio A8s, a smattering of Inifitis, Acuras, and Lexuses, five different kinds of Volkswagon, maybe a Toyota Avalon or two, a couple of Whole Foods trucks, and my '92 Buick LeSabre complete with erect windshield molding and faux back-left window made of packing tape.

My car is one of four in the lot that does not have an American flag affixed to it in some way. It's weird, but I'm sort of proud.

Since the redneck rhetoric of President Bush has permanently ingrained itself in Long Island's collective entertainment center--oops! I mean unconscious--it has become the thing to do, the thing to be, this patriotism. Before, Long Island was about simpler things. Nice cars. El Salvadorian cleaning ladies. Seafood. Strip Malls. New homes designed by general contractors from the Tony Soprano School of Masonry.

I've come to the market to fetch this homeopathic remedy I've started to need. I live about thirty minutes from the Fresh Fields. My neighborhood's a little less tasteful. More Chevy Suburbans and Mercedes tanks, less Jaguars and James Bond BMWs. It's not any different there, though. Almost every splanch or neo-colonial has a flag waving in front of it, its post stabbed into the peat moss of its front-yard botanical garden. Patriotism abounds. We are brothers. And yet I'm still cut off by a forty-year-old fake blonde in a Jeep Cherokee before passing the first intersection of my development.

I know it's probably bullshit, but the medicine I'm here to buy works. It's for that reason I've decided to embrace the psychosomatic tendencies of driving thirty minutes for little pills filled with an herb I don't know anything about. My ailments disappear when I take these pills. I've been taking them now for three months and have not developed a symptom since.»

Inside the Fresh Fields, things are quiet. I wonder if I should buy fish for dinner. It's been a while since I've had fish. Fish feign camaraderie. A school of fish, right? That's how they swim.

What does the American flag show support for? It's too easy to say "America." Are Long Islanders overnight flag-wavers because they were shopping for Chilean sea bass and homeopathic remedies when they heard the two skyscrapers their neighbor's friend's wife worked in were leveled to the ground?

I happen to think that the flag doesn't show support for the loss America incurred. It shows support for America's collective attitude about what happened. And since America's collective attitude about what happened--its public attitude, that is--has to be that of George W. Bush's, then, to me, these flags support the fact that George Bush wants Osama Bin Ladin "dead or alive" and that our country accepts the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center as an "act of war" and that we are ready to bomb the people who did this, and that they are a people, even though they're not a nation, and that we are ready to hurt the innocents who live near them too. Because we lost more people in the World Trade Center, more Americans, than in a single historic battle.

So the American flag means militancy. And this, for the first time in our lives, is something that we're supposed to feel, supposed to support. It's alright to want people dead. They killed us.

I don't know. I feel empty as the man behind the counter weighs my pound of snow-white fish flesh. Two minutes later, I'm back in the herbal remedies section. Maybe there's a pill for this.

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