stop that!

I was driving on Interstate 5 the other day and some jerk with an American flag on his vehicle cut me off.

At first I thought, “”Hey, maybe the president is in town.””

That really makes me wonder — you know how AM radio stations have “”traffic reporter Bob,”” who has just won a T-shirt for wasting his cell phone’s anytime minutes by calling in yet another overturned truck? Do terrorists then have “”president reporter Abdul?””

I want to be Abdul. It probably pays better than writing columns, and it’s something I would enjoy doing. And you know what they always say: Find something that you would enjoy doing even if you weren’t getting paid for it. I think that reporting President George W. Bush’s whereabouts to terrorists might be a viable position.

All these thoughts were going through my head — along with the mild irritation that accompanies getting cut off — and I realized that it wasn’t a presidential vehicle that had cut me off.

That could also have been obvious from the fact that the vehicle in question was a Toyota missing the letters “”TO”” and “”TA”” from the back.

I don’t really have a problem with people cutting me off. I do have a newly formed irritation with pseudo-patriots, though.

My girlfriend and I were driving to Los Angeles, playing out-of-state license. It is a game in which a spotter, upon seeing a license plate that is indeed from another state, yells the name of the state and then slams his fist into the arm of the person sitting next to him. We simplified the game to use only American flags.

Don’t play this game if you are the driver, especially if you plan on driving down long city streets where there is a flag on every street light. You are in for a world of pain.

I noticed the posters that some nice people had made and placed on every freeway overpass for a good 50 miles. My favorite slogan on these posters was, “”A nation in pain is a nation united.””

Just what are the authors implying? Perhaps we should have a national tragedy every week. If we could line up the Oklahoma City bombing, Columbine, Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center bombing all in the same week, we’d be super-united. We’d be the Super-United States of America.

One might say that I don’t like flags because I have come to that point through conditioning, having made a psychological connection between pain and flags.

One might also say that I don’t like flags because there are so many posers who think that by fishing out their nappy, Old Navy Fourth of July flag T-shirts and putting them on in the morning, they’re better people.

These are the same people who eat up the “”5 percent of your purchase goes to the American Red Cross between the hours of 11 p.m. and 11:10 p.m.”” when you buy stereo equipment at The Good Guys.

These are the same people who buy the “”Brownie Americaine”” — which is in French, mind you — at Extraordinary Desserts. It bears an amazing similarity to the “”Extraordinary Brownie”” from last week, except that it is topped by an American flag on a toothpick.

These are the same people who buy the heart-shaped pillow at Ikea, the proceeds from which go to the American Red Cross — yet at the same time, Ikea is only offering it so you’ll shop there.

Donate blood. Donate money to the American Red Cross. I’ve done neither, but at the same time, I’m not a poser.

What you shouldn’t do is go out and buy an American flag. Wal-Mart’s stock of 500,000 American flags sold out last week.

Let’s do some math here. Let’s say a flag costs $7. That’s $3.5 million that could have gone directly to the Red Cross, but 500,000 people were too concerned about “”America Under Attack, America United!”” to figure this out on their own.

Now Wal-Mart has half of your money, and every other clothing store has the other half from unloading its Fourth of July merchandise on you. They were all about to declare that a tax write-off.

So now you’re thinking, “”OK, I won’t buy a flag, I’ll print one out.”” That’s tacky and stupid. The only thing worse than a poser is a cheap poser.

Cloth flags have certain advantages over paper flags. First of all, real flags are double-sided. When someone sees a real flag from the other side, he sees stars and stripes, not the White States of 8-1/2 inches by 11 inches.

Also, real flags don’t crumple. If they get wrinkled, you put them out in the wind where they’re supposed to be, instead of your car window, and they iron themselves out.

One of the advantages of paper flags, however, is that I don’t see people getting worked up over burning pieces of paper.

Many people burn pieces of paper — sometimes to light barbecues or fireplaces, or sometimes they burn second-to-last wills and testaments after they find their lovers in bed with a plumber trying to fit something that isn’t a crescent wrench into a hole that isn’t copper tubing.

Look at all these new concepts we’ve discovered in the last week: pseudo-patriots, people who think printing out American flags on pieces of paper is a good idea, and so on.

Last on the list is flag theft, which is in the news. Although I can’t say I support flag theft, I’m in no way sorry for the last moron who jumped on the flag bandwagon and got his flag stolen.

When is it possible to steal flags at all? At night.

And when are you supposed to take your flag down?

To find out, read the piece of paper that came with your flag. No, not the one that says “”Made in Taiwan.””

That’s right: at night.

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