Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Nom d'Artiste

            “Nap Time!” chirps Miss James, Mrs. Sullivan’s new student teacher, as she claps her hands together in neat little triplets. Clap-clap-clap! “Let’s be quick!”

A human brain made out of art supplies
Right Brain


            What? Nap Time? Already? 


            I’m not ready for Nap Time. I’m not tired. I’m not even cranky. In fact, I am in a great mood. For one of the relatively few times I can remember in a life of years that can still be counted on one hand, I am content. More than content. I am engaged. Busy. Focused. Joyful, even – caught up in the process of seeing, understanding, doing. I haven’t had this much fun since, well, maybe never. So why is she making me stop?


            “C’mon, everyone! Let’s put down those scissors!” (Clap-clap-clap!) Put the construction paper back in the center of the table!” 


            She watches as our chaotic, mixed litter of four- and five-year-old humans reacts in every way a post-larval child can to an adult imperative, other than to cry. We know better. More than a week into kindergarten, we are all big boys and girls now. Crying was for babies. Our parents and our teachers said so.


            A few begin to tidy up their spaces, looking frequently to the teachers to see if they, the kids, were responding correctly to directions, or perhaps to see if they, themselves, were receiving the proper amount of positive attention for doing so. One starts to scrape together scraps of colored paper with both hands, like a poker player raking in her chips. Another slowly stirs his pile of paper in a tight little circle with a single index finger, his brow deeply furrowed in studied attention to the process. Other fingers around the room probe ears, and noses (mostly their own). An occasional thumb is still vacuumed into somebody’s mouth, for comfort, or simply out of habit. Some kids are diligently licking paste from their fingers, or straight from the jar. One little girl is arranging each of her supplies in a neat row in front of her. One child pauses, stubby safety scissors in hand, mouth open, staring distantly at nothing. 


            At a nearby table, the dark-haired boy in the red shirt is pretending the stapler is an alligator, and it is hungry. Clicka, clicka. “I’m gonna eat you - arrrgh!” Clicka, clicka. The girl with the brunette curls leans away in terror, holding her paper out of reach of the boy, and his gator. Clicka, clicka.


            “Be careful with that stapler, Jeffrey!” says Miss James. Clicka-clicka-clicka. “Here, let me have that.” Click…  “That’s not how we behave, is it young man?” Jeffrey frowns and slumps, dejected.  “Now go get your sleeping pad out of its slot. The one with your name on it, under the letter J. There you go.”


            “Now what are you doing, Douglas?” Miss James said. 


            I do not respond. My name isn't Douglas. 


            I also ignore her order to stop cutting construction paper, continuing instead to do what we’d just been told to do before that, during Art Period: Making Chinese Lanterns.


            It’s easy, once you understood all of the complicated steps. First, you cut a narrow strip from the short end of a piece of construction paper. Concentrate when you work the scissors, to make one long cut, as straight as you can. Save that piece for later.  Next, you take the rest of the sheet and make one nice, long fold right down the middle. You have to make the edges match all the way down, or it doesn't work. Your crease will be crooked. Mash that crease down hard with your thumb, so it makes a nice, straight line. Now, you take your scissors again, and make short, straight cuts right into the folded edge, about halfway up into the paper. Keep them about an inch apart, all the way.


            Now comes the tricky part. You have to open up the folded paper with all the cuts in it, just not quite all the way. You don't want to make it flat again. Instead, you want to roll it up into a big tube, just past where the corners match, which is kind of hard because the cuts in the paper make it want to bend every which way. Then you can pinch the corners together with your fingers, and use the stapler to…


            “Douglas! It’s time for you to stop. You need to put the paper down. Now.” 


            I still don't comply. Douglas still isn’t my name. 


            Miss James was having none of it. Her grown up hands reach down and snatch my lantern and stapler away from me. “Hey!” I said. “I was using that! I’m making a lantern!” My paper unfurls as she placed it on the pile of scraps in the center of the big round table.


            “Art Period is over now, Douglas. Or do you like to be called Doug?”


            “I don't like to be called either one. My name is Donald.”


            “Oh, no. It says right here on my list that you are Doug. Douglas Stewart.”  Miss James gives me that grown-up ‘you-can’t-fool-me-young-man’ sort of look. “You must be a little trickster, Douglas.”


            “My name’s not Douglas,” I say, with emphasis.


            “Whatever you say, little trickster. Now go get your mat. It’s Nap Time.”


            Bewildered, I am suddenly sentenced to a half hour of enforced idleness, robbed not just of my lantern and cheerful, productive activity, but of my identity, too. What kind of punishment is that? All I want to do is keep working.


            Maybe that is how kindergarten works. If you break the rules, they can just change your name. That seems a little extreme, especially when Jeffrey got to keep being Jeffrey. But wait – now that I think about it, they had changed me into someone else even before I had done anything wrong! What is going on here? 


            Maybe Miss James hasn't learned about names yet. She looks like a grown-up, and sort of acts like one, but she is just learning how to be a teacher, after all. Maybe there are other things she doesn't know. Miss James is new this week, taking Miss Leslie’s place, who was our teacher-learning-to-be-a-teacher last week. Miss Leslie knew my name. 


            Maybe Miss James isn't very smart. Or maybe she is just really mean. She looks like a nice lady, but I already know that doesn’t always mean a person is nice on the inside. I think about that as I unfold my sleeping mat, and lay my head down on the cold plastic cover. If I want to get my name back, I will have to be very careful, and try real hard to behave myself. Or maybe not. Sometimes with mean people it doesn't matter how you behave. They’ll just be mean anyway.


            I almost never go to sleep at Nap Time. Most of the other children can, but I usually stay wide awake, trying to be still, trying to keep my eyes closed, peeking out now and then to see if anyone else is looking around, too. If they are, we’ll giggle, and one or the other teacher will tell us to shush, and we’ll go back to pretending to be asleep again. Sometimes a bunch of us will start to giggle, which will make even more kids giggle, and that will make all of us giggle even louder. When that happens, it does not make the teachers giggle. Not at all. It makes them really mad. Maybe that was it. Maybe someone else had giggled at Miss James today, and made her mad. Maybe that’s why she wanted to change my name.


            Today it looks like the other children are all getting quiet right away, and after a few minutes nobody else is peeking back at me. If I wait long enough, maybe everyone will be asleep. Maybe the teachers will get sleepy, too. Hmmm… I wait another minute or two, and when I look, they are both at their tables, reading and writing, and not paying any attention at all to any of the sleepers. I wonder if either one of them will even notice if I creep back up in my chair, quiet as a mouse, and start working on my lantern again… 


            It will be risky, but even if they do notice that I’m not sleeping anymore, and not peeking or giggling at anybody, they’ll be able to tell right away that I don't really need a nap. That what I really need to be doing is finishing my Chinese lantern. If I stay quiet and busy, I might not get into any trouble at all.


            Besides, if they aren’t happy about it, it’s Douglas who will get into trouble, not me. That seems like a reasonable risk to take. 


            Another minute or two goes by and I sit up, very slowly, then slip over into my seat at the worktable. Now if I can find my piece of construction paper, all I have to do is roll it up, staple the corners on the top and bottom, then run a line of paste down the edge to seal the seam. That will make the lantern. Then, with that long skinny piece I had to cut off at the beginning, I can bend it over and staple the ends to the top of the tube for a handle, and my Chinese lantern will be done! Yep, there’s my paper, right there, just within reach. Now I’ll just get the stapler, slide the corners of the paper in like the teacher showed me, and Clicka


“Douglas! What are you doing?”


I don’t respond. 


My name isn't Douglas.





Wednesday, April 1, 2020

America’s New Miracle Tool

Introducing The 
’Stique ® 
Garden Wand!
April 1, 2020

DS Art Environmental, Ltd. announces the release of a Revolutionary new Multipurpose Garden Tool, a Miraculous Invention that empowers YOU to 

Plot Rows!    Plant Seeds!    Lift Weeds!   
Dig Furrows!   Draw Lines In The Sand!
Excavate Irrigation Channels!  Prevent Run-Off!  
Train Trees And Climbing Vines!

      YOU can use your ’Stique ® to chase away pesky garden pests, and even test for the presence of rocks and other subterranean obstructions below the surface, in places you can’t even see!

In addition, your ’Stique ® can provide essential support for fencing, guidewires – even bird houses and feeders! And if you're looking to stand up a scarecrow, you can't beat a ’Stique ®

Available In Metal, Plastic, Fiberglass, 
or All-Natural Wood

      Our Super-Deluxe ’StiqueTips TM Package comes with a variety of handy attachments that allow you dig even bigger holes, trim unsightly limbs, clear away leaves, grass clippings, rocks and debris. Your ’Stique ® can even till the earth, chop weeds below the surface, and mix the soil, all in one easy maneuver!

What Could Be More Convenient?

Attention Sports Enthusiasts!

      If you order now, we’ll send a miracle ’Stique ® Sports WandTM at no extra charge! Use as a measuring stick, a sideline yard marker, or with a dizzying variety of reasonably priced ’Stique ® WandaptorsTM, you can send the ball toward the goal, to the hole, into or over the net, or clear out of the park! Or simply add one of our unique, proprietary PointesTM, and throw your Sports WandTM for long distances, breaking your own personal record. 


      Have we got a line for you! 
      Our patented ’Stique ® AnglerzTM package will make your ’Stique ® look reel! Or upgrade to Neptune level with our custom Netts TM and trident 
SpearPointes TM gig adaptors, and the one that got away… won’t. 

Martial Arts!

      Perfect for practicing quarterstaff, fencing, and kendo! Apply PugilPufs TM to the ends of your ’Stique ® for extra fun in the
boxing ring - and with our expertly crafted line of high carbon steel Pointes TM  and Edjes TM attachments, your ’Stique ® can suddenly become an effective lethal deterrent, keeping real bad guys at bay!

      Act now, and you can also get a complete set of our patented 
Conneques TM adapters, empowering you to extend your ’Stique ® endlessly in either direction, creating your own Really Bigg’Stique ®!

      Use for knocking fruit out of trees, cleaning gutters, washing windows, and trimming tall tree limbs, or take it out to the sports field for a run at pole vaulting! Or, feel free to walk softly.

Free for a nominal handling charge, you can also get a pre-packaged bundle of ten Lil ’Stiques ®, ideal for tent stakes, starting campfires, playing horseshoes, making nunchucks, or playing fetch with the family pooch.

Life will never be the same after you’ve discovered the ’Stique ®. The possibilities are truly endless!

Only $99.95
(while supplies last)

Act Now! Go immediately to www.DSArt.com. Click ‘Shop’, then ‘Gardening’, and click on the photo of the Amazing ’Stique for prompt service.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Auditory Visualization

Art/Science Collaboration 
Turns Sound into Color

Auditory Visualization

April 1, 2017
Birmingham, Alabama

Research artists at Birmingham’s DS Art Studio today announced that they have developed a new computer application that transfers color variations into auditory signals capable of selectively stimulating sensitive regions in the optical cortex of the human brain. The breakthrough technology not only promises unparalleled relief for the visually impaired, but could redefine the future of personal entertainment.

“Turning color into auditory vibrations and back again is old-school technology, used widely in everything from video games to rock concerts to astrophysics,” reports Dr. Don Stewart of DS Art. "The real trick is turning sound into meaningful impulses that correspond to shape, form and color inside the mind.”

The genesis of the new technology arose when Stewart and his wife, color artist Sue Ellen Brown, began exploring data merges between commercial illustration programs and the standard Garage Band app on their desktop computers.

“At first we just started transducing digital files of black and white drawings into static fields of sound waves. Once we cleared that hurdle, the rest was just cleaning up the math,” Stewart said.

The big breakthrough came when researchers at Southern Auditronics, headquartered in Wedowee, AL, managed to piggyback the DS Art audio information stream onto a background carrier frequency – a subsonic wave that stimulates the cortex in the posterior regions of the brain, the area where the perception of vision actually takes place.

“It’s armchair science, really,” said Stewart, who trained as a physician before becoming an artist. “Everyone is familiar with the phenomenon of being hit on the head and seeing stars. Low-level vibration stimulates the brain cells in the optical region, and the frontal cortex interprets the signal as floating, flashing lights."

By isolating this specialized group of subsonic frequencies, the audio researchers were able to produce the same phenomenon. "After that it was just a question of fine-tuning the input waveforms to produce more complex images," Stewart said.

Experimental subjects report cloudy impressions during the first few trials, but these usually clear up into crisp visualization after a few sessions. “Like most things, it gets better with practice.” Brown observed. 

Smart Phone Applications

“Imagine our surprise,” Brown said,  "When we learned that the technology required to produce these energy transfers (transforming light to sound, and adding the carrier wave) already exists in most late-generation smart phones. All we had to do was write the software, and bottle it up in an app.”

With this new technology, users can now simply pop in their ear buds, close their eyes, and point their smart-phone cameras at anything they wish to see. The app turns the incoming light waves into digital sound patterns, then attaches the patterns to a low-frequency carrier that hums its way to the back of the head, where things really start to light up – at least to the perception of the viewer.

“Seeing With Your Ears”

Successful trials of image-to-sound transfer suggest a number of incredibly promising lines of scientific research, and commercial development. 

The potential benefits are tremendous – not only will this breakthrough hold out the possibility of renewed visual experience for people with impaired sight; the researchers believe it may develop into an entirely new entertainment platform.

“Just think – you might never have to go to the movies or watch TV again. Visual media may simply be reduced to streams of digital sound. Virtual Reality headgear may be reduced to a set of headphones.” said Stewart.

The potential for interacting with other species may also be on the horizon. Scientists have long known that alligators communicate using subsonic vibrations, carried over long distances through the water. Could they in fact be sending visual images to each other?

We may soon find out.


Donald B. Stewart
Sue Ellen Brown
DS Art Studio Gallery
2805 Crescent Ave
Homewood, AL 35209 USA


Friday, June 15, 2018

Three Things

My father told me three things he would later come to regret. 

Deer Diary

            Usually it was my habit of ignoring his instructions that made him angry. Actually paying attention to his counsel, then applying it in ways that he did not expect or approve of, that’s what really put a burr under his saddle. The saddest part is, upsetting him was never my intention. It just seemed to happen regardless of my behavior. 

            Dad seldom gave advice. He preferred directives, usually preceded by the phrase, “You’re doing that wrong”, or “Here, let me show you something”, which was really just his other way of saying, “You’re doing that wrong.”

            The most useful and lasting advice Dad had to offer came from his candid observations.

            He couldn't go into a McDonalds, for example, without marveling at the organizational efficiency of the place. He always commented on the unidirectional flow of raw materials from the back of the building to the front, with value added along the way. What didn’t go out the front doors and into waiting cars, he noted, was neatly channeled into trashcans, and finally cycled in an efficient stream to the dumpster out back. Every action, every stop along the way was planned and executed for maximizing profit. He all but glowed over the prospect of cause, effect, and the managerial control that made it all work. 

            This marriage of knowledge, organization, and administrative power were epitomized by the university medical center where he worked, personified by the doctors whose budgets he managed, whose retirements he planned, whose paychecks he signed at the close of every month. 

            Dad practically worshipped order and control. His professional world functioned according to plan, with strict adherence to the dictates of established processes and concrete calendar deadlines. Things worked because people worked to keep things working. It wasn’t supposed to be fun. 

            Creative endeavors were a sideline, to be indulged only after the real work was finished. Even then, creativity should be productive. Practical. Exploration for its own sake was an unsupportable proposition, indistinguishable from play – which is why his occasional epiphanies to the contrary stood out in such stark contrast to his overall worldview, and carried so much more weight.

            Of the many opinions, directives, examples, orders, platitudes and heartfelt paternal memoranda Dad offered over the years, only a few somehow found their way through my adolescent armor, took root in my mind, and burrowed in to stay. They may have been issued from his castle of practical conservatism, but once filtered through the rebellious prism of my rationally contrarian personality, these three recommendations did more to convince me to pursue my own devices and fulfill my personal, creative agendas:

1. “An academic degree is like a bus ticket. If you don’t want to go where the ticket takes you, there’s no reason to waste your time getting it.”

2. “Most people are too busy making a living to ever make any money.”

3. “It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, as long as you can pay the bills.”

“An academic degree is like a bus ticket.”

            Academic medicine is a process marked by an endless series of milestones: diplomas, degrees, certifications, fellowships, continuing education and re-certification programs. After medical school comes the residency match, the pyramid system, and specialty board certification, followed by competition for positions in fellowship programs, election to national and international specialty colleges and professional societies, and hierarchal status within these same organizations. The academic career track provides even more markers of success (or lack thereof), in research and publication, assistant and associate professorships, committee assignments, and department administration. 

            As a surgical intern, all of these opportunities were laid out before me. If I worked hard enough, kept my nose clean, kept my mouth shut, did everything I was told without complaint, anticipated pitfalls, kept up with my reading, and behaved responsibly, one day I could make it all the way to Chief Resident. I might be offered a fellowship, then asked to stay on as an attending physician, and work my way up the academic ladder. If I proved to be good enough at medicine and politics, I might even enter the realm of administrative decision making.

            Yes, the road to being a surgeon was rough. I’d worked hard to buy the ticket, and found my seat on the bus. Once I got far enough along the path to see where that road was leading, though, I decided I didn't want to go there after all. 

            Why? In a word, it wasn’t fun.

         (“Work isn't supposed to be fun! That’s why they call it work!”)

           I needed a ticket to an enjoyable life. I didn’t need a ticket to academic surgery. So why not go for a solo practice? Just hang out my shingle and …

            Non-academic practices have pecking orders that rival the educational model, with rewards correspondingly based on competitive performance and supervisory review of board certification, licensure, association membership, continuing education and hospital affiliation. In addition, a solo medical practice offered all the hazards and pitfalls of self-employment plus the added burden of malpractice liability - without any preparatory business training, and peoples’ lives hanging in the balance. 

            I didn’t want a ticket to go there, either.

            So, what do you do when you buy a ticket, let it take you where you thought you wanted to go, then find out upon arrival you don't really want to be there? I’d earned my ticket to medical school, and gave doctoring my best shot. More important, I took an oath as a physician, and I meant it: Primo Non Nocere (First, Do No Harm). If my heart wasn’t in it, the most responsible way for me to do no harm was to exit, stage right. But if you do that, what is waiting for you in the wings? Are you allowed to get a ticket to someplace else? And if so, where did I want to go? 

            I didn't know. If only my dad had offered some guiding insights for the uncertain traveller…

“Most people are too busy making a living to ever make any money.”

            Dad’s general philosophy allowed that people who worked (to keep things working) did so grudgingly, and only because it was the only way they could put food on the table. Most people, in his view, were lazy, and, given the opportunity to stop working and sponge off of society, would do so at a moment’s notice, and happily keep at it for the rest of their lives. This was fact.

            But he could also see that doing right by society, holding down a regular job and providing your family rarely allowed anyone to get ahead. To become wealthy, you had to have an angle. You had to be clever, and work extra hard to come up with an original idea, then develop and promote that idea until it finally paid off.  

           He wasn’t talking about pipe dreams. He was talking about ideas that had real potential in the marketplace. Unfortunately, he noted, few people had the time, the energy or the intellectual and financial resources to take a concept from the idea stage to the store shelves at Wal-Mart.

            If people are too busy making a living to accumulate wealth, it follows that someone intent on moneymaking should not worry so much about the day-to-day cares of bill paying. Rather they should lower immediate expectations, minimize their cost of living in the short term, and spend whatever resources they have carefully, selfishly creating the environment and the means to produce something original. If they succeed, they’re winners. If not, then they have to go back to the grind of daily labor – and pay off all the debt they’d racked up by following their dreams.

            Legendary recording artist Sam Cook announced in his late teens that he was never going to get a job. His family was appalled. They knew that if you didn't work, you didn't eat.

            For his part, Cook observed that people in his family who worked for an hourly wage got paid on Friday, and were broke again the following Monday. They existed to barely make ends meet, in an endless cycle of labor and debt. Sam Cook wanted more than that. He broke away from the family mold, followed his talent, and went on to become one of the most successful, most influential performers of his time.

            I think Dad would have approved of Sam Cook. He certainly approved of Elvis Presley, a man with whom he identified at a basic level. Elvis was a truck driver from the country, who took a chance on his talent, and made it to the top of the list. Elvis made something of himself. He succeeded, against all odds.

            Both Sam Cook and Elvis Presley succeeded in unlikely careers because of their understanding that they each had a remarkable talent, and to capitalize on that talent, they would have to step boldly away from traditional societal and professional roles. Dad admired that, because they succeeded

            He also, once, admired an artist – for his work, to be sure, but mostly for his business acumen.

            Clark Bailey was an art professor at the Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts, where my father served as the school’s business administrator. An accomplished metal sculptor, Bailey wrought wonderfully sinuous human figures and abstract forms from such simple, available materials as coat hangers and car bumpers. By the time we came to know him, the artist had achieved a certain level of national recognition, and was making the best of it. 

           My father, whose signature appeared on the professor’s monthly paychecks (and likely his income tax forms as well), was well acquainted with the artist’s finances, and his sources of income both on campus and off:

            “That Clark Bailey has the world by the tail, let me tell you! He’s the only artist I know who found a way to beat the system, and boy he beats it like a drum.”

            Clark Bailey found a way to make a living that also left him plenty of free time to make money. His talent for doing so was separate from his artistic ability. Making art was a requirement of his chosen profession; making money was a function of his ability to use his art-making time to make business connections as well, and to put those connections to good use.

            “I was over at his house last weekend for a cookout, and he took me out to his garage to show me his collection of sculptures. Most people have no idea how many he has done, and he likes to keep it that way. That’s his secret. Now, toward the end of the year, he’ll decide how much money he wants to make, in addition to his salary. Then, he says ‘I’ll sell that one, that one, and that one.’ Those are the ones he’ll release to the galleries for sale. The rest he keeps in mothballs until next year. This guy literally sets his own pay scale! Now that’s freedom, I’ll tell you. The man is more than a good artist. He’s a brilliant businessman.”

            Create a consistent product line. Build demand. Manage the market. Got it. I don't know why that story wedged its way into the mind of a pre-teen whose only career interest was to someday get to medical school, but when it did, it sunk deep, permanent roots.

            The other enduring lesson I learned from Mr. Bailey was the urgency to create now, today, while you still can. Clark Bailey’s promising career was cut short in a hunting accident, just about the time I was entering high school. His passing reinforced the unspoken imperative given by my mother’s premature death: Your life comes with an expiration date, and it’s sooner than you think. Don’t put off happiness for some point in the future. You may not last that long.

“It doesn’t matter what you do for a living…”

          There was something else my father told me, about a man he once met in the mountains of eastern Arkansas, back in the 1950’s.  It was meant to be an object lesson in laziness:

      “He was as poor as a church mouse, this fellow, lived way up in the middle of the woods. A real Hillbilly. This man had nothing more than a shack to live in, and an outhouse, and an old dog for company. He kept a little garden out back, I guess, but mostly he ate whatever he was able to shoot.

      “What money he made came to him in the summer and fall, when he would act as a guide for people who wanted to fish in the mountain lakes, or hunt up in the hills.  He had no idea how poor he was. I once heard him brag to us city folks how foolish he thought we were:

‘I work two, three months out of the year, taking city-slickers up to the hills to catch fish or shoot some deer. I figger I’m walkin’ up that a-way anyhow, so what’s it to me if they want to foller along? They give me a hunnert dollars for it. A hunnert dollars! Come wintertime I can make three thousand, easy as that. The rest of the year I stay in my cabin, hunt and fish when I want to, come and go as I please. I don’t know many city folk as rich as that.’”

I don’t know many, either.

         Dad’s reason for telling me this story was cautionary: Don't sell yourself short

          Instead I took it as a grand parable: Decide what makes you happy, and pay no attention to how others judge your success.

          In my first half-century on the planet, I’ve been a student, a performer, a union laborer, a doctor, and an artist. According to many who have shared their opinions with me over the years, my father chief among them, the thing I was supposed to be best at was medicine. 

          Sorry, Pop. I’m much happier drawing pictures for a living. 

          I had been drawing pictures for twenty years when my father dropped by the studio for an unexpected visit. He rarely visited our shop, and his discomfort was apparent, as it always was when he saw me in the context of my art. That day, though, he seemed to have come to a place of resignation, if not acceptance. Whatever it was that led to his reluctant change of heart, I would never know. Maybe it just took that long to realize that art for me was more than a distracting sideline, or to acknowledge that with the passage of so much time away from the hospital, I would never be able to catch up with the medical advances required to go back into practice.

          As he looked around the studio, its walls filled with my drawings and my wife’s paintings, he seemed to relax for a moment.

          He sighed audibly, and said, “Son, I don't know what you do. I don't know why you do it. But you seem happy. You always seem to find a way to keep yourself fed… and you‘ve never once asked me for money.”

          That’s as close to praise as I ever could have expected from my father the accountant, and far more than I’d ever hoped for. 

          I hope at some point that he realized that whatever success I’d achieved came mostly from listening to his advice.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Flagging Sales

We received an invitation to a military ball. 

For any civilian, this is a big deal.  A really, BIG deal. This is the military at their best – dress uniforms, spit and polish, tablecloths and napkins. Not many outside of the uniformed fold have any reason to be there. You want to do it up right.

So, the Missus gets a new dress. I buy a new suit, one that works with a black tie and cummerbund, and a new pleated shirt. Cufflinks are excavated from the back of the sock drawer. Dress shoes are located, dusted and polished.

All is in order, until a military friend says, “You’ll be wearing your American flag lapel pin, right?” Of course I would, if I had one. Truth is, I haven’t worn anything with a lapel on it since sometime in the last century. So no, no flag pin. “You’ll have to get one. It’s not optional.”

Sure. Fine. Okay. No need to insult our hosts. I’ll pick one up today, at the gas station, or the corner convenience store. Or the party supply store. Or the hardware store. Or perhaps the Dollar Store. Maybe that other dollar store? No, the pharmacy, they’ll have one. Or the other, competing pharmacy up the road. The one across town surely carries these things. For god’s sake, they used to be on display cards at every cash register in creation. You couldn't throw a rock, or swing a dead cat without hitting one, or two, or ten. Where are they all now?

Wal-Mart, maybe? Target? Hobby Lobby? Are you serious? Nobody can sell me a lousy American flag pin? The guy at the Toy & Hobby store should have bags of ‘em, I thought. No, but if I found more than I needed, he’d like to buy one from me.

It is a gala, after all. 
High-end sparkle is 
entirely in order.

Wow. I knew that these signature patriotic symbols were more than popular in this flag-waving, I’m-a-better-American-than-you society we live in, but I never dreamed they would be so universally desirable that every one of the businesses in my neighborhood could be sold out. So I asked, “When do you expect to get more in stock?”

We don’t. Ever? Never. In fact, none of the people I talked to could remember when they last had one for sale. Most said they’d never carried them. No, they had no idea where I might find one. Have I tried looking online?

I had in fact looked online. That’s how I knew they were supposed to be sold at Wal-Mart, only my store somehow wasn’t on the special ‘flag pin’ list. Lowes had a nice Stars & Stripes pinwheel for the yard, but no flag pins. Would I like one of those? At this point I was actually thinking about it.

Surely the flag store downtown would have them. That’s the store that opened years ago because the owner wanted to buy a flag to fly outside his house, and couldn't find anyone who was selling them. Their web site said they carried the pins, so I called to see if they had one I could stop by and purchase in person. No. They closed their brick and mortar store a while ago, in favor of an exclusive online presence. They’d be happy to send one to me right away, though, for the retail price plus a standard shipping fee, which frankly was equal to the cost of a dozen pins from another online source. And that one offered free shipping.

No, I still figured I could buy one in person, at retail, in my own community. Time to lean on the right wing.

I called the police uniform shop. Nope, no pins. The gun repair shop. Nothing. The tactical firearms store, the one that hosts republican politicians for town hall meetings. Three tries, all during business hours, and they didn't even pick up their phone.

Of course it was imported. 
Why would I expect it to be 
made in America?

Back to the computer, to cast a wider net on the… net. Got the Missus to search at the same time, and discovered that we could get one directly from the White House Gift Shop. It comes in a box with the presidential seal on the inside, in a box with the presidential seal on the outside, for only $24.95, plus shipping and handling. That's a lot more than I wanted to pay for boxes.

After another half hour of being channeled back to the same pages over and over, we finally gave up and placed an order for a cheap enamel pin.

Thank you! Your item will be delivered a day after you leave for your gala event. Unless you wish to add an additional $20 for expedited shipping…

No, thank you, we would not. Twenty-five bucks for a two-dollar pin? We can get that deal from the White House. There had to be a better way – but the clock was ticking, and we had few options.

Cancelling that order, we dove back into the search, this time switching the query around from ‘American Flag Lapel Pin’, to ‘Lapel Pin American Flag’. And it worked!

“This classic American flag pin is fashioned out of silver-tone metal, genuine mother-of-pearl, and red and blue enamel. Imported.”

Of course it was imported. Why would I expect it to be made in America?


No. Way. (But it is nice and sparkle-y, with all that mother of pearl. And their store is just a mile away, so no shipping charge. Hmmm…)

No. No! Before I pay thirty bucks for a damn flag pin, I’m going to call every truck stop within twenty miles of this studio. They HAVE to have bona fide American flag pins, along with all the Harley and Hard Rock CafĂ© and Peterbilt pins they sell to truckers to stick on the fronts of their cowboy hats. I travel the roads. I know what I’m talking about. I’ll spend thirty bucks in gas to drive to a major Interstate crossing and pick one of those suckers up myself, if they’ll just tell me which direction to point my van.

They don’t. No one has flag pins.

I give up, and give in. Over at the upscale mall, I plunk down $29.50, plus tax, for a pin made of genuine mother of pearl, and blue and red enamel. 

And why not? It is a gala, after all.
High-end sparkle is entirely in order. 

No doubt the Missus and I will both be flooded with online ads for weeks from every company that has ever sold, or plans to sell, an American flag lapel pin.

Bring it.

I’m an American, dammit, and I have a flag to prove it.