Muslowski did not vote Obama for President in November of 2008.
“I do not take prejudice against a Black!” Muslowski shouted to Darlene up close against the sound of machinery. His eyeglasses, the lenses of which got thicker each year, almost touched her ear. “I vote for McCain, the war hero! Did you vote him too, Darling?”
That broiling summer afternoon in 2009, three steady young men from Brudershaft Brothers, sweat dripping from their long orthodox beards and soaking through their black wool clothes, framed a half-circle extension of Muslowski’s driveway. The plan was for a wide crescent of concrete through the front yard hugging the brick elevated planter, that would allow pedestrians to walk off the street and observe the flag garden from any angle.
“I didn’t vote none of them!” Darlene shouted back in a voice husky from years of nicotine deterioration. She dabbed her neck with a kitchen sponge, lit another cigarette and waited until the noise of the Brudershaft’s grade scraper paused. “What in Hell’s this going to be in your driveway anyway?”
Muslowski was astonished. “You did not vote, Darling? It is your citizen’s sacred duty to vote. What about your concubine? He does not vote either?”
“Darriel? Don’t know if he votes. I never do. They’re all crooks. Voting’s like… you’re the lookout for some shitheel politician while he robs your house.”
Muslowski refused Darlene’s negative civics. “I do not believe what you think. No, not in the U.S.A., Darling.” The noise of three Brudershaft chainsaws began upstaging Muslowski’s indignation. “We must use our rights or someone will trample on them!” he tried yelling.
That was the summer day Muslowski paid Brudershaft Brothers to cut down his apricot trees.
Over the next few years, as Muslowski’s hairline faded, his brick planter beneath the American flag flourished with annuals and sculpture. First, he put in a four-foot fiberglass replica Statue of Liberty with water circulating around a model New York Harbor at her feet. The next year he inducted a copper bald eagle sculpture that was also a functioning weathervane, and neighbors joked about mistaking the shiny-headed bird for Muslowski. Every Christmas, in the snow- cloaked garden, Muslowski put out a ceramic Old Man Frost, the Lithuanian Santa Claus, and dressed it in an American flag-themed suit hand sewn by Ugnė. In summer Muslowski grew red, white, and blue petunias. Whenever people traveled Ganado Street their eyes were drawn to the curbside commemoration. It even drew the attention of The Pueblo Post-Standard who printed a photograph of the flag garden on the front page July 4, 2013 edition.
Unfortunately, the sparkle of that particular Fourth of July was diminished by a killing. On Abriendo Avenue, police officers shot an African-American motorist dead. A week later, after the recent-elected mayor of Pueblo announced the police involved would not be punished, there were multiple outburst of nighttime vandalism, of which the flag garden was a target. It was believed to be a gang of marauding teenagers who destroyed Muslowski’s statues, trampled his petunias to compost, stole the American flag, and cut his aluminum flagpole into three pieces.
Bullock, who had left a hacksaw outside her garage overnight, somehow felt liable. At no one’s expectation, she trekked door-to-door collecting donations. Muslowski was surprised to see Bullock on his steps when he answered the knock at his front door, and even more so when she handed him a shoebox full of small bills and loose change. She explained the money was intended toward repairs of his damaged flag garden.
“Aa,” Muslowski said, “I think, Ms. Bullock, you are beginning to believe that U.S.A.- ism is more important than Quacker-ism.”
“No, Mr. Muslowski, I believe in the practice of nonviolence and deeds for social justice.” She took a step up and extended an empty second shoebox. “Would you be willing to donate back to a fund for the family of the Black man murdered by the police on Abriendo?”
Muslowski’s grin plunged. “What does the police shooting a man have to do with tyrants cutting my flagpole to three pieces?”
“I did not vote for Obama The Second,” Muslowski apprised Schwimby. The veteran walked Ganado three times a day with his Akita, who similarly hobbled liked an old solider. “Last year, two thousand and twelve,” Muslowski said, “I voted for Mormon Romney because he is a smart business man like me.”
Waldy’s Hobbies had become a secure-concern and Muslowski an elder in the Pueblo business community. He assumed people must already have known he did not have financial need for the flag garden repair fund raised by Bullock and other neighbors. He had accepted the money as a gesture of approval—a popular call to reinvest in communal patriotic appreciation.
That autumn morning a larger truck from Brudershaft Bros Landscape and Concreter drew up. It was a flatbed rig, ferrying a tracked loader, auger, and pallet fork. Muslowski played foreman to the three pious laborers as they installed a forty-foot flagpole, the first of its height in Pueblo residential neighborhoods. Attendant to his monumental erection, Muslowski raised a twenty-foot long American flag he had custom ordered from a nylon textiler in Indonesia.
During Colorado high plains winds, the flag flapped aloft Ganado Street like a giant hand waiving cars under. Neighbors reported they could see the flag when they were miles away.
Curious, Muslowski drove up to the county reservoir and verified that one could see, even without binoculars, his tri-colored moonraker waving above the city.
Once again The Pueblo Post-Standard sent a photographer. This time they published a color photo on the first page of the metro section with a one word caption: Flagzilla!
One afternoon a television van from Now News 9 parked on Ganado. Happy Raines, a lank and bonhomous local weatherman, performed a broadcast live from the stage that was Muslowski’s driveway. A frequent repeated roast in Southern Colorado was that Happy Raines’s crazy neckties were more reliable than his weather forecasts. Muslowski loved him.
“You ask why such a big flag?” Muslowski chuckled into Happy’s microphone. “Aa, because I love the U.S.A. so big!”
Ugnė was on TV too, her hair pinned up to the firmament, but she spoke less adoring of the star-scraping flagpole. “I wish Bill of Rights had been for my apricot trees,” she said into the microphone. Happy Raines laughed. Ugnė did not.
Indeed, not everyone was happy about the size of the flag soaring over the street and the lookiloos it attracted. Bullock organized a street meeting, the first of its kind anybody could recall, and set up her kitchen chairs out front in her gravel driveway. Few households sent representatives. Muslowski did not attend. He watched the proceeding while standing elevated beneath his nylon behemoth and watering his petunias. After the meeting, a delegation, consisting of Bullock and Moralez, deliberated up Muslowski’s rounded driveway and conveyed him a handwritten proclamation reading:
Whereas: The neighborhood determines your flag and pole to be an eyesore, a nuisance, and harmful to property values. We Resolve: The flag and pole must come down.
Muslowski gave the delegation an instant response. “Whereas I have beheld your proclamation, now I resolve you to be uninvited to stand on my private property. Please only view our beautiful flag garden from the curb.”
The next day an anonymous tipster called Pueblo City Hall to remind officials the flag on Ganado Street was in violation of height restriction ordinance. A Pueblo County sheriff deputy delivered a citation to Muslowski’s door with an order to disassemble the pole on threat of a compounding lien.
Instead of calling Brudershaft Bros Landscape and Concreter, Muslowski contacted his friend Happy Raines. At the next day’s press briefing, Pueblo’s mayor was caught unaware when the weatherman from Now News 9, in a polka dot necktie, asked ornery questions about why the city was banning the American flag. The mayor’s office later released a statement that, regarding the disorderly flag, his policy aligned with both The Pueblo Post-Standard editorial board and American Legion Post 40, in support of Muslowski’s Constitutional rights.
On Sunday afternoon visiting cars occupied all the curb space on both sides of Ganado. Passionate legionnaires and stalwarts from other patriotic-minded groups blocked the street and mobbed around the flag garden with homemade signs. For hours the crowd occupied an acre below the flag and chanted slogans. The old soldier, Schwimby, was at formation presenting a sign that read Killed 4 Flag-Would Die 4 It 2. Darlene’s voiced rasped all afternoon and she carried a sign that read Flag Stay! U Leave!
A mobile lectern was placed in Muslowski’s flag garden. The tricolor petunias were crushed again underfoot, but Muslowski did not care. Even though he had not voted for that mayor, because he looked too young, Muslowski stood abreast with him at the lectern. Happy Raines stood in the frame too, a graphic of Uncle Sam on his necktie conscripting the local television audience with a rigid finger. At one point a rogue gust whipped the heavy flag earthward almost taking Happy’s high head off, but, beyond a wince of shock, his glaze never dulled. TV camera crews from both Now News 9 and Action News 4, as well as other local reporters, gathered around the lectern. The mayor donned Schwimby’s ornamented Korean War flight jacket, loaned person-to-person over the heads, and declared to Pueblo’s voters they would have to recall the election before he would ever enforce the city’s un-American flagpole height restriction.
There was no recall. Pueblo’s City Council repealed the flag ordinance. Muslowski’s banner yet waived.
RF Brown is a fiction writer and freelance editor residing in mighty Rhode Island. An alumnx of Hampshire College, he has also worked as a salesman of laser pens, telephone wire, life insurance, cocktails, and dreams. His short stories have appeared in Sucker, Spitball, and Aethlon Journal of Sports Literature. Current projects include a musical novel about Broadway and a collection of sports stories written through the lens of semiotics. RF recommends Let America Vote.