Zero Plus 367
A Dog's Day Night On Fifth Avenue
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York
City, September 14--I'm ambling up 5th Avenue, above 50th Street.
It is perhaps the richest shopping area per square foot in the world,
rivaled only by Paris. I'm looking for Signs of Vigilance--high
My eyes are glued to the LCD screen of my
daughter's digital Olympus. She loaned it to me while my Kodak is
being repaired. Hers takes rapid-fire pictures, brackets the
exposure, and can literally dance by itself. Mine is a Model
T...slow but reliable.
My wife is on the point.
She marches ahead,
pointing out images for me to shoot. I am consumed framing
shots from different angles, capturing the glittering flags and Americana
employed by the world's most famous retailers to hawk their wares.
I think back to a year ago.
Back then every store along "rich row" seemed
to have flags growing
out of their windows. This year, the bull market for Americana is
I am disappointed.
Only the most elite of stores seem to display
variations of Old Glory. The others appear to have given up on
the idea the red-white-and-blue is an added marketing tool, given up on
saluting the heroes, the victims, or America in general.
I wonder if they just didn't
I feel deflated. I
feel angry. I expected Fifth Avenue to bloom with patriotism.
I feel I'm in a weed patch, with only a few blossoms in sight.
I wonder why the merchants of Fifth Avenue abandoned Vigilance. I
think of the insult it suggests, when only a dozen months ago Old Glory
was the exclamation point in most every window.
I wonder what an al-Qaeda member would think.
jump up and down with histrionic glee that commercialism and materialism
has sacked Old Glory? Would he think the majority of Fifth
Avenue stores had sided with the Terrorists, realized the U.S.
Flag was just a sham, a meaningless scrap of cloth not good
enough to help sell anything, so why fly it? Or, were
they afraid a flag might draw fire, might signal them as targets for
I try to not think about the
The nakedness is too obvious, too odious.
A year before I had taken my grandson to view the
lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree where American flags always
fly. Afterwards, we took pictures of all the windows along
Fifth Avenue, clear up to FAO Schwarz toy store. I used him as a model, standing before the glorious
displays--a handsome little boy, age 5 then--peering into Walt Disney's
window ablaze with flags, into Revlon's window with its delicately painted
U.S. Flag signing a moment of glory for those who had died for the
freedoms the flag represents.
But last night it
was a dog's day afternoon for flags on 5th Avenue. Actually, it was
The sun was setting. The lights of the city were turning on.
Golden shafts of sunlight kissed the buildings goodnight, then the patches
of sky above the concrete walls turned grey and finally inky dark.
I don't like "dog's day afternoons" to
describe things, but that's what I felt.. The saying comes from Late
Latin, so called because the Dog Star, Sirius, rises and sets with the sun
during this time.
The Dog Star
The communion of the Dog Star
and sun exists between early July and early September.
Commonly, "dog's day afternoon" expresses a sultry period of
summer, or, to reference "stagnation."
Fifth Avenue was in Flag Stagnation.
That irritated me. It perplexed me
that rich store owners had opted to forget to remember. If they had
remembered, they would not have forgotten the death of Sirius, or of more
than 2,800 humans who died with Sirius that day.
I grew to know Sirius well. Sirius is the name
of the only K-9 to be killed in the World Trade Center attack on Nine
Eleven. I had written a story about Sirius in April
story) when K-9 and Rescue Dogs came from all over the
Nation to Liberty Park to hold a memorial for Sirius.
I knew Sirius wouldn't be happy about the Complacency evidenced by the lack of flags on Fifth Avenue.
He might have even growled.
As a survivor of Nine Eleven, I took the
evisceration of Old Glory on Fifth Avenue as a snub by those who could afford to demonstrate the principles of
capitalism but chose not to. Who more benefits from capitalism
than the rich? And who is the first to not spend a buck to admit it?
Selfishness, I thought. Pure selfishness. A dog's day for
Fifth Avenue merchants.
However, Sirius would be proud of one thing about
Over 300 rescue dogs have been fashioned, painted and displayed around New
York City. They follow the cow mania, when hundreds of painted
cows dotted the city. One of them stands vigil on Fifth Avenue.
My wife spotted it in front of FAO Schwarz's toy
store. She had noticed FAO's toy soldier
logo over the entrance. The soldier held two flags over his head. We hurried over to
I love dogs. I grew up with them.
They were my buddies. When our children were very young, my
wife rewarded me a great Siberian-Malamute mix. I named him Zonka.
He grew to nearly 100 pounds of rugged beast. He loved the kids and
drove off any invaders with intimidating fangs and guttural growls.
He was my Sentinel of Vigilance, my canine K-9 -- my Sirius who
protected my family from Terrorists when I often traveled.
The Rescue Dog statue in front
of FAO Schwarz had a tear dripping down his right eye--a symbol of
sadness. I knelt next to him and my wife took various pictures
of us. I put my Semper Vigilantes armband around his neck--my way of
symbolizing him as a buddy, a pal.
As we took the pictures, I tried not
to think about the artist designing them so he might get fame, or the fact
that when they were removed, they would go up for auction and be sold--to
only those who could afford them. I would have preferred they would
all be given to orphanages, or schools, not to the highest bidder.
Some things are priceless. Some things should never be sold.
I was also miffed the Rescue Dogs didn't
look at all like Sirius.
Sirius was a non-descript golden retriever.
He looked like any family "mutt." But he had a nose for bombs,
and was used to sniff out vehicles entering the basement of the World
Trade Center for explosives. He was part of the Port Authority team, protecting the
World Trade Center after the bombing in the 90's. He was in his cage
when the building collapsed on Nine Eleven. His body was
ceremoniously recovered from Ground Zero on January 22, 2002.
I figured they didn't fashion
the 300 dog statutes after Sirius because he just wasn't "pretty enough."
He didn't look like Rin-Tin-Tin. He wasn't a "beautiful model."
The handsome, virile shepherd was used, not the
mutt. That irked me. I understood even though I didn't
accept. Life's like that. We learn to tolerate ourselves and
Had I really cared, I would have
lobbied long ago for Sirius to be imaged, at least, pleaded that
some proportion of the 300 dogs represent his likeness. We took the pictures anyway.
I knew many rescue dogs had worked hard. I'd done a story on them,
in addition to Sirius.
We moved on. I wanted to get more pictures.
Again, my wife's eagle eye
caught a flash of red-white-and-blue. Pickings were slim, so any
flash of the colors leapt out against the naked backdrop of Fifth Avenue.
It was Bergdorf-Goodman, an elegant store on the corner next to the Park
An incredible array of
historic American flags filled each display window. There were
original flags, some with 18, 21, and 25 stars.
A 35-star flag commemorating the
Battle of Bull Run posed proudly for my camera. An extremely rare 43-star
flag, one of only three in the world, commemorating the 1890 statehood of
Idaho and called the "Seven Day Flag," shone its reverence to the Vigilant
who had died on September 11.
Seven Day Flag
I was excited. I
forgot my anger toward the other stores that didn't fly flags and began to take photos of each display. My heart
pounded. It was a treasure chest waiting to be captured by my
As I worked my way up the length of the
block on which Bergdorf-Goodman rests, the final window held a large
Below Old Glory was the following message:
|"The whole inspiration of our
life as a nation flows out from the waving folds of this banner."
As I studied the antique flags, I
thought of how Colonel Leon Utter, commander of
the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, used to gather us in the makeshift
thatched-roofed chapel before each battle in Vietnam. Colonel Utter
would grab the flag and hold it up as he spoke. Utter reminded us that if
we died that day, our blood would flow in the red of the flag's stripes;
it would become part of its fabric, as all others who had died for freedom
were represented in the weave of the red.
When we left for battle we
were ready to die if need be, for our flag. I knew those who had
died in the Terrorist attack died for their flag too.
Seeing the antique
collection of flags at Bergdorf-Goodman turned
the dog's day afternoon into a Monument of Vigilance. The flags
erased a sour taste in my mouth.
Earlier, my thoughts were full of
resentment and anger toward the stores that repudiated their patriotic
statements of a year ago.
I likened them to the United Nations.
A year ago the United Nations representatives all thumped their chest
against Terrorism, but now, a year past, they were back peddling, dashing
for cover, taking the dog's day attitude toward President Bush's demand to
stop Hussein before he grows stronger and threatens not just our flag's
fiber, but all flags.
I was also angry at the capitalists of
Fifth Avenue. I was upset they chose not to make the flag an
of their merchandising. I felt like they were siding with the
Terrorists, refusing to mix patriotism and products, acquiescing to the
idea that the flag and merchandising was oil and water..
I knew the only reason they own fancy stores is
because capitalism allows them to. The U.S. flag is
the world's symbol of the right to rise from poor to rich in an eye blink.
Few nations on this earth offer a poor man the right to get rich
overnight, and all because of what the fabric of the flag represents.
One who has been to a former communist
state knows what happens when the state controls the economy rather than a
free market. Poverty is rampant, services are poor, and
people's anger and frustrations run high.
America's economic might, its political and
military might, is the result of capitalism and democracy. The two
balance themselves so that our poorest, our poverty stricken, live like
kings and queens compared to the rest of the world. Poverty in
America for a family of two is earning less than $17,000 a year, while in
most underdeveloped countries, the annual earning rate is $500 a year.
Our worst is 34
times better than the world's worst--but we forget that. We
throw rocks at the rich, resent what they have, and are quick to forget
they got it because the capitalistic and democratic opportunity to get it
The blood in
our flag represents, among other things, the freedom to start your own
business, freedom to speak, freedom to be your own boss, freedom to
believe in a God of your choice.
We forget a foreigner can immigrate to the
United States with nothing in his or her pockets, and in a few years
become wealthy through hard work and dedication. The world
resents that right to be rich, to evolve from poverty. Terrorism resents that
right as a club to beat American ideals into the ground, to contend we
prey on the poor, that we are giants of oppression. If we are
giants of anything, it is of freedom, giants of the right to let anyone
achieve who is willing to make their dreams come true.
European countries resent our financial freedom to achieve. And
sadly, many of our own citizens resent it and feel we are "class society"
instead of "right-to- be-rich-rather-than-poor," society.
It frustrates me when I hear people
deriding the rich and lobbying for everyone to be "the same." I
think of my children and grandchildren and great great great grandchildren
being deprived of the right to rise up the ladder of economic security.
I think of a world in which they are forced to be "like everyone" and
tremble. I tremble that so many think the idea of competition is bad
and not good, or that the "right to rich" is some kind weapon to be used
at the expense of the poor.
. I bristle when I hear that kind of talk.
I know anyone who tries to take away or denigrate the right to become
"rich" is a an Opportunity Terrorist. And, I know that those
who have used America's freedoms to attain it, yet refuse to display their
respect, fall into the same category.
We forget. Oh, do we
We forget to salute the principle of freedom of self-sufficiency.
We forget the idea of freedom is to
not rely on a boss to pay us our replacement value, but to open our own business and seek our own fortunes if we wish.
Without capitalism, that would be impossible. Without
capitalism, there would be no Fifth Avenue.
So where are the flags?
I saw so many stores naked, so many Fifth
Avenue legends neglecting the flag and what it represents, that I felt
a great knot in my gut. I wondered if the owners of the stores
that neglected to dress their windows in red-white-and-blue remember that hose who died in the World Trade Center were
the heartbeat of modern capitalism. The World Trade Center was the
Castle of Capitalism. Without its engines churning, Fifth Avenue
would turn into a slum.
If for no other reason, I believe, each store
should have flown the flag in its window to pay respect to the tons of
money the World Trade Center created that made its way to Fifth Avenue and
fertilized the owner's bottom lines. Even though that would be a
crass reason, it would have been better than indifference. It
would have been far more valuable than Complacency. I figured
the stores who had refused to put up flags were victims of Terrorism.
They were hiding in caves, like Osama bin Laden, hoping no one would
notice their lack of concern, their lack of support..
I haven't forgotten the stores that
didn't fly Old Glory in memory of September 11. I'll
remember them. I'll remember the insult. So will many others.
But I was proud the best of stores
had their flags out. Bergdorf-Goodman hadn't forgotten. They
brought in the world's most rare flags--a precious history of America
worthy of all the world to see.
others beside Bergdorf-Goodman that flew the flag proudly. Gucci had a simple flag
in its display window with wheat grass under it. I didn't get the
symbolism at first, but my wife did. "It means we are
healthy," she said. "It's very subtle. Very classy."
Lord & Taylor
had nothing in its display windows. On the panes of glass was a
message of remembrance. The clear absence of any advertising or
promotion was a bold understatement of its respect for America and the
principles of freedom..
Tumi luggage offered a
simple but powerful expression of the American Dream, flags on their
luggage, representing America on the move.
provided a full-scale Superman next to an American Flag. A shiny toy fire engine
was positioned beneath the flag. It had Engine 9 painted in white
letters on its side, ironically the same as the engine
company near our apartment.
a vertical flag in its window, so elegant I wanted to take a bite of it.
Banana Republic planted its
store front windows and interior with shafts of wheat, symbols of
America's hunger to achieve
peace and prosperity for the future at the expense of the present..
Henri Bendel was selling up-scale
limited editions of a fashionable firefighter's jacket.
Proceeds are earmarked for the Bart J. Ruggiere Memorial Fund,
a victim of the September 11 Terrorist Attack.
Fortunoff filled their windows with Candles of
Vigilance placed in silver candle holders and backdroped by an American
flag designed with accordion folds. The flag glimmered in the
night's light, symbolic of the riches and treasures awaiting anyone from
any land who seek success upon our soil.
Escada, an elite women's store,
had its windows dressed with the most modern fashions, embraced by a flag
motif that telegraphed the message that what anyone who seeks to aspire in
this country can achieve the goal, if he or she is willing to work for it.
The Trump Towers entrance on Fifth Avenue was
anointed with a Holiday-sized American Flag, reminding all that one can
come from the ground floor all the way to the top of the Empire State
Building using the tools of democracy and capitalism our forefathers and
foremothers handed down generation from generation.
As we walked up 57th Street to the subway
we passed Steinway & Sons. It displayed a beautiful piano with an
American Flag next to it.
J. Crew offered a simple signet--the American
Flag logo and the word: Patriotism under it.
As we climbed aboard the subway and headed down
to the East Village, I realized the dog's day evening had not really been
that at all.
I was a Marine, and our
slogan was: "The Few! The Proud!"
I joined the Corps for the elitism it
offered, and for the challenges it posed to my character. I
was taught one lesson I shall never forget--to keep standing up for what
you believe no matter what the pressures are to surrender those beliefs.
I thought of those Fifth Avenue stores who had
proudly displayed the U.S. Flag as the Marine Corps of
Retail. They were the "Few!" and the "Proud!"
who had the Courage, Conviction and took the Right Action to display the flag.
The best of the best weren't hesitant about remembering where their bread
was buttered, or shy about offering tribute to the Sentinels of Vigilance
who died on Nine Eleven. They weren't ashamed of their capitalistic
heritage, or the democratic principles that provided the same opportunity
These Marines of Retail
Vigilance, Sentinels of Capitalistic Vigilance, stood out of the
crowd, as they should. They are reminders to the world that while others might overlook the power of
capitalism and democracy, the finest don't. The finest remember the
reason for the blood in the stripes of the American Flag.
I felt much
better as I thought through the evening.
I realized the
tear in the Rescue Dog's eye in front of FAO Schwarz was as much a symbol
of loss for the victims of Nine Eleven as it was sorrow for the stores on
Fifth Avenue that forget to remember to salute capitalism and democracy.
I knew Sirius felt the same.
respect to the stores that may have displayed the flag, or in some
other way honored 9-11, I want the reader of this story to know that
in no way does the absence of a store's name imply or infer that it is
not in support of the heroes of Nine Eleven, or the Principles of
Freedom. That would be far too presumptuous a conclusion to
make. However, based on my experience from last year,
compared with the visuals this year, it was obvious a number of stores
along Fifth Avenue elected, for whatever reason, to not display the
flag, or salute 9-11. For those who wish to validate this,
I suggest a trip along Fifth Avenue. And, if anyone
is sincerely devoted to comparison, I will be happy to share my photos
of a year ago with them so that they can examine the difference.
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