September 14, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 367
A Dog's Day Night On Fifth Avenue

Cliff McKenzie
   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 class Vigilance.
       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 bare pickings. 
       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 care.
     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. 
      What happened?
      I wonder what an al-Qaeda member would think.  Would he 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 attack? 


      I try to not think about the answers.   I can't.
      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 early evening.  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 (link to 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 Fifth Avenue.   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 take pictures.
       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 others. 
        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 Plaza Hotel. 

       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 daughter's camera lens. 
       As I worked my way up the length of the block on which Bergdorf-Goodman rests, the final window held a large modern-day flag.  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 integral part 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 existed. 

       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.
   .   Many 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 forget.
      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.

         There were 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.

         Sharper Image 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.

        Godiva Chocolate presented 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 to all.

       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.

Note:  In 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.    
                                                            Cliff McKenzie, Editor,VigilanceVoice

Go To September 13--Communitarian Vigilance

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