One of my neighbors, in the wake of the First Republican Defensive, got the bright idea to hang his huge Independent Battle flag across our street in New Chicago in order to display his support, patriotism, or something along those lines. I was indifferent. It wasn’t that I didn’t care so much as I was as apolitical as a person could be. In my bathroom hung a United States flag I’d picked up at a stoop sale on the East Side for a couple of bucks. I wasn’t American, my parents were Russian and Chinese. I liked the historical significance. That was my weakness, my fondness of all things in the past. As strange as it may sound, I liked the way the streets were quiet and the unusually reserved voices my fellow Galieans seemed to assume in the days and weeks after. I wasn’t sure what it reminded my of, but I felt that by hanging the flag, I would, in some way, be enacting history and that was enough for me.
My neighbor didn’t live next door to me, he lived across the street in an apartment on the same floor as mine. The two of us had never spoken before then and wouldn’t have recognized each other on the street had we bumped into one another which made him contacting me something of a chore.
I was sitting out on my wrought-iron fire escape, seven floors above, with a bottle and a half of wine and another empty bottle lying on its side precariously close to rolling off and falling five stories down. I didn’t have a glass, just a corkscrew and the desire to drink. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed someone half way out their window waving at me. Knowing that I was blocking the means of retreat and maybe just stupid, I restored the empty bottle to a standing position and waved back thanking him for his concern but he did not desist. He was saying something that, for the life of me, I couldn’t understand. I’d always had a problem with my hearing. When my Dad took me to a doctor once to see if I was partially deaf, the doctor shook his head and said no, that I was either too distracted to hear what was said or too stupid to get it the first time. That was the last time we went back to that one.
Off balance, I stood, bracing myself against the railing and leaned over focusing on his words but still I couldn’t understand. I began to wonder if it was even Colonial English. I shook my head and pointed to my ear in the universal sign of “I can’t fucking hear you.” He frowned in return and retreated inside. A few minutes later he was back and I heard him shout while I was in the middle finishing off my second bottle. It must have been arts and crafts day in his household because he’d made a sign:
What’s your phone number?
Part of me wondered if he was hitting on me and the same part asked to see if I couldn’t put a bottle through his window but something more sensible and drowned in alcohol said that he probably wanted to say something. I weighed the two voices and eventually decided that the second was probably correct. But I lacked the materials in my apartment to make a sign like his to deliver the information back. I sat there for a second wishing that I’d paid attention in the scouts during the smoke signals lesson when a better idea occurred to me.
I lifted two bottles and pushed them into the air four times. His head cocked to the side, he looked at me like I was “gifted” student for a full minute. Then, on the back of the sign, wrote a big number eight and held it up. I raised my thumb high giving him the colonial sign of “you got it guy” then gave him the rest of my digits via bottle and waited for my phone to beep. It vibrated seconds later, playing a snippet of a song from an Athenian rock band. Picking it up, I wondered that, since he was the sign maker after all, why he didn’t write out phone number and save us the fifteen minutes of devising an entirely new means of communication.
“Hello,” I asked, curious what it was all about. It had ruined the nice even buzz I had and was more than a little upset about the whole thing.
“Hi,” he said. “I’ve got an idea I want to run past you.”
“Okay,” I said. I was still out on my fire escape and watching him pace back and forth with excitement over his idea. It was not infectious.
“I’ve got this big flag and I want to hang it.”
“And I need your help.”
A picture crossed my mind then of a man who had seen his neighbor drunk and wandering around his small apartment the night before naked who was now using this idea of a flag to pick up on the guy in what seemed to be his most regular state.
“How big is it,” I asked.
“The flag, man, the flag.”
He asked me to meet him down on the street and I agreed even though I knew that the stairs would be more than a little bit dangerous in my condition. After hanging up the phone, I pulled on a pair of boots and took each step carefully so as not to tumble and hurt something more severe than I did every night to my liver. I was amazed at first when I noticed that I had beat him to the street but it faded as I watched him emerge from his building’s door.
Rolled up and tossed over his shoulder was a flag that was longer than the two of us lying head to toe. He wrestled it out the door, past the stoop rats that always lingered, and dropped it with little ceremony on the narrow sidewalk, a little too close to my toes.
“That’s a big flag,” was all I could say. He didn’t respond and I lit a cigarette for lack of anything better to do. “How do you plan on hanging it?”
“Well,” he said panting from his struggle. “I was thinking we could string it up from our fire escapes.”
“That’s nice, but how do you plan on doing that?”
His plan, as he explained it, involved me forking up the cash for some rope that we would then toss across the street with the flag already attached to one end. It wasn’t a bad idea except that it was his and that I was going to be the one paying CD$123 for the thing. But I took satisfaction where I could in knowing that he would have to be the one lugging his symbol of patriotism back up to the seventh floor and headed off to the hardware store. I could only wonder what the big guys behind the counter thought upon seeing a kid approach with long hair, a distinct odor of alcohol, and about a hundred feet of rope.Thankfully they didn’t ask any questions. I doubt they would have believed me anyway.
Back in my apartment I summoned one of the few things I learned from scouts and split the rope into two parts. One was a little longer than the width of the street, and the other the remainder. I then tied the second part to the first and stepped out onto the fire escape to test out my delivery device. It was then that I realized that I had a problem. My plan was to swing the rope above my head like a lasso then let it sail over to his side where he would then secure the flag to the longer end. Once done, I would pull back on the rope I still held and we would each side to our railings. The problem was that I didn’t have enough room to swing. On test throws the furthest I could reach was to the middle of the street.
A crowd had gathered on the sidewalks and I was beginning to loathe the whole project. He was lucky that I’d spent CD$123 on the rope or I would have quit to finish off my bottles of wine. As it was, I thought of a new way to send it over to him. Tying the end to the railing, I flung the rest up to my roof which was only six or seven feet above me, then stepped inside to head up.
Standing on the roof, I found that I had more than enough room to get that baby up to speed and winked at my neighbor, giving him the Galilean sign of, “we’re set to go.” I swung so hard that I almost lost my balance then heaved it in his direction. I made my mark. It hit him in the face–hard–and he went down with a bloody lip, but the rope stayed on his fire escape so I went back down onto mine, the people below cheering my successful throw.
Pulling the rope back across was easy until the battle flag draped over and hung free above the pavement. It was every bit as heavy as it looked earlier on the street and it almost pulled me over the side. I looked down and decided that falling was not something I wanted to do that day and braced to tug it my way. I glanced over aside and noticed that I had a swig left in one of the bottles and helped myself. The people on my neighbor’s side of the street who could see gave a loud cheer and, for a moment, I felt like a hero. All I needed was some sparkly and a couple of flash bulbs to complete the picture.
When the two of us were satisfied that flag was as centered as it was going to get, we tied off our ends and held our arms up like “One Punch” Dutch after his fight for the approval of our audience. We got it in spades. I popped the cork on my last bottle and gave myself a healthy dose. I knew that someone down there was going to tell their children about what they saw and it felt good. It was the best wine I’d ever tasted.
The next day, with the hangover I knew I deserved, I made my way down to the pet store. My fish were hungry and I’d neglected to buy them food for too long. The fall yellow sun was bright and I tried to keep my eyes to the ground when I noticed that I had walked into a patch where the light was decidedly red. Shading my brow, I glanced up to see that the people one block over from where I lived had hung a flag twice the size of the one I wrestled with the day before. Standing in its shadow, I silently thought about the last time my fish ate, decided that it hadn’t been so long after all, and turned around in the direction of the nearest bottle shop.