- U.S. and Them 1971
My father worked in a white T-shirt, off-white overalls and construction boots that were spattered with paint and crusted with Spackle. His fingers looked like wooden spindles, whitish as if they'd been stripped and then antiqued, and no matter how he scrubbed or what he wore, my father always smelled like turpentine: kind of clean and kind of poisonous. Maria said her father was an executive at General Electric. Terri's father worked at the New York Stock [End Page 35] Exchange. Donna told me her dad was a corporate attorney, and I had heard enough. Corporate attorney, commodities trader, CEO: suit-and-tie occupations. With the luxury of sitting behind a desk, my classmates' fathers might as well be wearing slippers, too. I never went out of my way to tell anyone that my father was a house painter, but I never denied him or what he did for a living. Whenever someone asked me who my father worked for, I was happy to announce that he worked for himself. I took pride in the fact that my father really worked for our bread and butter.
But I made it my mission to avoid talking about what my father did—what both my parents did—as patriots. I never said "John Birch Society" out loud. Saying "JBS" was the equivalent of asking everybody to line up for the final judgment. I didn't know what the Trilateral Commission was, but as Birchers, my parents spent a great deal of time trying to expose such socialist organizations. Having heard of forces such as the One World Order (though my understanding was limited), I saw that ultimately each person chose to be on the side of good or evil. My classmates from Assumption—their parents were either in league with the conspiring elite, or they were pawns.
My father headed the greater Bridgeport, Connecticut, chapter of GUUN—Get US out of the United Nations—Committee (pronounced gun, not goon). Our dining room at 327 Wade Street was the base of operations. We had equipment: an eight-millimeter projector sat on a TV tray. A stand-up movie screen blocked the hutch and was flanked by six-foot-high American flags. We kept an army of folding chairs standing against the wall. We had a megaphone! On the night of a meeting, my mother piled Dunkin' Donuts on the table, perked the coffee and waxed the bathroom floor.
I joined the GUUNs. I wasn't a natural member by birth. My entry into the world of patriotism actually came at an unlikely place and time: not in the dining room, not at a meeting or after a speech, but in the basement. I was watching my father cast plaster-of-Paris bricks for a wall in the kitchen he planned to reface. He poured the floury mixture into clear plastic molds, and after the bricks hardened, he pried bar after bar out of the plaster casts and stacked the bars like a Fort Knox of chalk. I didn't want to be run off the way my kid brothers were. I wanted to have a reason for being there. I wanted to count and handle the fragile plaster bullion, so I asked questions.
"Dad," I said, "why do we keep so many American flags in our house?"
"It's considered an un-American activity to have organized meetings without the old Stars and Stripes present," he answered.
"Says who?" I asked. [End Page 36]
"Says J. Edgar Hoover. Got a problem with that?"
"You know who J. Edgar is?"
"The FBI guy."
"You're paying attention," my father said.
It bothered me—the notion that, for the price of displaying the flag, Communists and Satan worshippers could legally congregate.
I thought back to a church carnival. I remembered holding my ticket and standing in a long line for the Whip—me, my Dad and our priest, Father Carley. Father told my father and me about secret sects: their members were ordinary-looking people who came to mass, walked right up to the altar to receive Communion and then spat the...