Tag Archives: Confederate Flag

And Sunbeams Fell Lightly Upon the Edge of the Grocery Store Parking Lot

Photograph by Jose Padua
Yesterday on the parking lot of the Martin’s grocery store here in Front Royal a woman nearly ran me over after I dropped off my shopping cart in the corral. I can’t say for sure, but I gathered that she was one of those people who like to pretend folks like me aren’t here. I yelled, she ignored it, then got out of her car and headed straight to the store entrance, her headed tilted upward as if she were praying for me to disappear.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had trouble in this parking lot. There was that one time a group of good ole boys in their jacked up pickup truck started revving their engine when I was about to go onto the crosswalk in front of them. After they’d revved the engine, I wasn’t about to take a chance crossing in front of them, so I waited for them to move on and they laughed and jeered at me as they drove off.

Then there was that other time when I was in my car, stopped at the cross walk to let a woman go by when another woman who was talking to a policeman then alerted the policeman that I had just nearly hit someone with my car. The policeman came up to me and told me to pull over. He advised me to slow down and even though I wasn’t speeding through the parking lot, I said “OK, sorry officer. I’ll be careful” because a lot of times it doesn’t help your case when you say what really happened.

Sometimes I feel so ill-equipped for life here. Sometimes I feel so ill-prepared. I remember one time at a reading close to DC, in Arlington, I’d read one or two poems that mentioned having Tourette’s Syndrome and probably OCD too, and afterwards these two people in the audience started asking if I’d tried this therapy or that and asking as if these were things I’d ever heard of. They were asking me questions based on the assumption that I wanted to change—that I wanted to fix myself. But the thing is, I’m not trying to change. And even though I may be poorly equipped to deal with certain things—with a lot of things, actually—I’m not trying to fix myself. For me that would be a giving up, and whatever remedies are out there would bore me to death, because what I’m trying to do is survive and remain exactly what I am. That’s what’s interesting for me. That’s the challenge.

Sometimes I think that anything else wouldn’t really be survival, but merely a slowing down of the blood inside of me. Me, I want my blood to move. I want it, at least some of the time, to feel like fire.

Earlier this evening, I had to go back to the grocery store. This time everything went pretty smoothly, until I was done and got back to my car. That’s when I saw one of those pickup trucks with two big Confederate flags hanging on flag poles in the back. It was parked right next to my car, and there was nobody in it. And nobody around. I wanted to spit on it, but again, there was nobody around. Who would I be sending a message to but myself? And there was always the possibility that someone was watching, and I just didn’t see them.

So I stayed calm, got in my car, and took a picture of it. That’s one obsession I’m always going to give in to. My obsession with documenting as much as I can. The obsession that requires me to complete whatever formulas are in my head. But I’m not going to post the picture I took. Not this time, anyway.

Instead, here’s a photograph of part of the valley taken from the stretch of Route 522 that lies between the General John Reese Kenly Memorial Bridge and the Cosme Tuazon Padua Memorial Bridge. Whenever I take the time to look up at the mountains or down to the river here, I feel as if the strength inside of me is constant. I feel the strength when I hear my twelve year old daughter playing guitar or piano. Lately, the song I’ve been hearing her play on guitar is the Vaselines’ revamping of an old hymn, “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” and on piano, it’s one of Chopin’s waltzes. I feel the strength whenever my five year old son asks me to play Miles Davis in the car after I pick him up from school. Or when he hears the name Donald Trump mentioned if the news is on and says, “Donald Trump. No.” I feel it when my wife wakes up early in the morning, on a weekend after another busy week to work on her own book and write. And it’s in these moments that I go on being myself. And, because it’s the only way I know how, I go on surviving.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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Vincent van Gogh and the Possibility of Opposites

Photograph: Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night as reproduced by Maggie Padua
Among the usual items I found on bringing in this morning’s mail delivery was a flyer from Miller’s Ace, which is up the road a little bit from Front Royal in Stephens City. It is, apparently, a hardware store, but looking at the flyer they sent you’d think it was the local Guns R Us outlet. Everything from small pistols to shotguns to automatic rifles were in the flyer. Except for few tiny sections featuring paint and lawnmowers, every single inch of the four page flyer featured some kind of gun. I looked down to the dining room table where I had laid it down and shook my head. Well, I didn’t physically shake my head at it—because the motion was all in my mind—and though I was safe at home, there are times out here in the valley when it’s good that other people don’t know what you’re shaking your head at.

A little later, after I’d picked up Julien from school, we were heading back toward home when we came across yet another one of those pickup trucks flying a huge Confederate Flag out the back. As he passed by, the driver gave me that look I’ve seen so many times—that empty and evil look of someone who sees me and isn’t quite sure what the hell I am, except that I’m an “other.” As he gave me that look I was shaking my head at him. Calling him a dumb-ass, racist motherfucker. But he had no idea, because I was doing it without making a sound, without moving a muscle. Of course, when the time is right, you do make a sound—a big fat fucking sound—and you move every muscle as well as you can. But you have to be careful when you do it, because more often than not, they’re the ones with the guns. Me, I don’t carry that shit, but they do. Which, to me, just means that they’re the ones who are more afraid.

Julien and I went on home and took our usual afternoon nap. He still needs his mid-day nap, and I need the nap because I’m never able sleep more than a few hours at night. The afternoon nap gives me the sort of break I need to function. I think it also helps me resist that primitive urge I have within me to give the finger to every single goon like the one we just passed. It’s free speech, just like they’re free to express their idiocy and bigotry in the form of a giant flag they wave from their jacked up pickup truck. But some free speech is protected more than others. It kind of depends on where you are. But then again, maybe it doesn’t. And when your so-called free speech attempts to communicate, legitimize, and put a stamp of approval on hate and heinous ideas, that’s another matter. And that’s why I say as far as the Confederate flag goes: Burn that motherfucker down. And when it’s burned down, I can sleep a little bit better. But not much.

Usually, I have to wake up again in an hour and half to pick up Maggie, but today we were able to sleep a little longer because until the end of the week, she’s in New York. She’s there to take part in this week’s Model United Nations activities with the other sixth graders from her school. Although I have my disagreements with the school’s methods at times, one thing that always stays with me is when during an event at the Front Royal Moose Lodge, the school’s founder explained that she began the school with idea of having an institution here that promoted peace.

Like most people from my generation here in America, I grew up playing with toy soldiers, playing cops and robbers, playing with toy guns. But I grew out of it. A lot of people didn’t, and a lot of people grow up believing in the beauty and glory of guns and the necessity of violence as a means–and, to them, the only means–of solving any number of problems. For the big business of war, that’s a good thing. As for me, I try as much as I can not to do things that aid the big business of war. Or promote the concept that this is America and that America has the right to just take whatever it needs from whoever it wants to. All of which is to say that a school that seeks to promote peace is going to get my support.

A few times this week, Maggie asked if any of the museums in New York would have some of Van Gogh’s work, because one of her school’s planned excursions, in addition to the United Nations events, was a trip to the Museum of Modern Art—and Van Gogh was an artist she just recently became fascinated with. Earlier tonight she called to say that they had just come back to the hotel from dinner, and that before the evening’s United Nations activities, she and her group from school had gone to the Museum of Modern Art. It was there that she saw, in person, Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 painting The Starry Night.

Van Gogh, who out of many disturbances, managed to bring forth The Starry Night and so many other works of beauty. Who, at the age of 37, no longer able to handle the sadness and despair he felt, apparently shot himself. Who in his own way brings to mind the futility of the many forms of violence, and sets me wondering about the possibilities of its opposite.

-Jose Padua

Photograph: Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night as reproduced by Maggie Padua

Shenandoah Breakdown

Photograph by Jose Padua
One day when it’s fine
when I can give in not
up to what moves me
inside I’ll yell to the
women wearing frontier
dresses, “I can see your
vagina!” as they walk
down Main Street on
a sunny Sunday morning.
I’ll declare to the guy
in the pick-up truck
with the Confederate flag
flying out the back and
gun rack, “You’re on
the losing side!” as his
face turns ugly and he
lifts his fat fist. Then
I’ll add “Nice pants!”
and he’ll stop and say
“Thanks” because like
so many Americans he’s
proud of the way he walks.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

I Just Want to See His Face

route11aThe words going through my mind at that moment were, “You don’t want to walk and talk about Jesus, you just want to see his face.” We were going south on Rte 11, the alternate to sharing the road with the convoys of trucks on 81 that are desperately and dangerously trying to deliver their loads on time. We’d passed by the Trinity Quick Lube in Winchester, whose flashing yellow sign declared, “Believe in the Power of Prayer.” And we knew that when we reached the stretch where Rte 11 becomes the 116th Infantry Regiment Memorial Highway, and where the Christian auto body shop towers over the other buildings on the block, that we’d be somewhat close to our destination. Or would it mean that we’d gone too far and that we were, in fact, lost?

But then halfway through Middletown, we were found. We’d just passed the Irish restaurant where the owner always seems to warmly greet all the other customers but us, when I saw a cop turn his lights on behind us. I thought that, OK, he just got a call, so I pulled over to get out of the way. But it turns out I’m the person he’s looking for.

I turn around to see that there are two cops in the car behind me. So we sit and wait for a few minutes, wondering what their story will be. As for my story, I already know what it’s going to be and what it isn’t going to be. And what I know is that it isn’t going to be the truth. Because telling the truth to a pair of small town cops who have nothing to do on a quiet Saturday afternoon is the sort of thing that will get you arrested—or worse.

And it’s not like you can trust city cops, either. I know a woman, a white woman, who was once questioned by the police in DC simply for riding in a car with her black boyfriend. As for her boyfriend, they didn’t spend much time asking questions. They simply threw him against his own car and immediately arrested him. They were nice to the woman, though, and one of them gave her a ride home since they were impounding her boyfriend’s car. And, on the way home he asked her out. She declined politely—because, after all, discretion certainly is the better part of valor, especially when you’re dealing with someone, anyone, who’s carrying a loaded weapon.

Besides, as an old family friend—an attorney who knew DC cops very well—once said to me, “Never trust the police.” Of course, it’s not like they’re all corrupt. Here in Front Royal, whenever we’ve had to deal with the police, they’ve been extremely helpful, as they were several times during the recent presidential election when our Obama signs were stolen and our house vandalized in the process. Each time, a policeman came promptly, asked us questions, gave us tips for deterring thieves and vandals and left us with the feeling that, yes, these guys were on our side.

JubalEarly4a

But we weren’t in Front Royal, this time. We were in Middletown, Virginia, where during the Civil War, hot-tempered Confederate General Jubal A. Early met his own Waterloo, as it were. Early, like some people today, didn’t like what was happening in Washington. He also thought that the institution of slavery was the best way to deal with what he saw as those “barbarous natives of Africa.” Indeed, it was Jubal Early who was most responsible for giving birth to the concept of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, which held, among other things, that the ends of the Confederacy were noble, its leaders chivalrous, and that the institution of slavery was basically good for African-Americans. It’s a concept that lives on today whenever someone tries to tell you that, by God, some of the slave owners treated their slaves very well. And it’s a concept that lives on, of course, in even worse ways.

The trip that took us through Middletown that day started in Winchester, where we crossed that busy stretch of road that runs west to east through town. Named Jubal Early Drive, it’s a road we just about always have to take whenever we go to Winchester—which, because of the resources there, is fairly often. Jubal Early and his lost cause are, you might say, never that far from us.

So, when the cop in Middletown finally comes to the driver side window of our Toyota minivan (some may think I’m being picky, but I’m willing to bet that cops like these two stop Fords and Chevys a lot less often than they do Toyotas and Subarus), and we see that his uniform bears a patch that has both the United States flag and the Confederate flag, we’re not really surprised.

Then, finally, as his partner stands at attention on the other side of our vehicle—I suppose, in case Maggie or Heather makes some sudden, threatening move—he gives us his story.

“Did you know you were going 40 mph in a 30 mph zone?”

“Yes. Sorry, officer,” I said. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

I was lying. I was paying attention—I was going 32 mph in a 25 mph zone. There is no 30 mph zone in the business section of Middletown.

“And did you know you zoomed by a bunch of kids on the side of the road riding bicycles?”

“No, officer,” I said, again lying. There were no kids on the side of the road riding bicycles—I knew that because I was scoping out the place, looking for things I might want to come back to photograph later.

“You just pulled off of 81, didn’t you?”

The cop was making it all up—it was obvious he had a story he was sticking to and a profile he’d invented. And I was making it all up, too, giving him back the story he wanted. I didn’t just take the exit off of 81, because I’d been driving Rte 11 since Winchester. There was no 30 mph zone. There were no kids on bicycles. But again, because discretion certainly is the better part of valor, I nodded like I was getting to the unsurprising plot twist in some dime store novel. Although, technically, I really was speeding, all the details were pulled out of his uniformed ass. Pleading my case would have been difficult, if not risky.

route11-4a

I might have done things differently if Heather and Maggie hadn’t been there with me, because it’s when I’m alone that I often have the most trouble—those times when they’re not there to keep me calm, to remind me that I don’t need to fight every battle. That sometimes, all I need to do is get where I’m going.

The cop took my license and registration, then he and his partner went back inside their police cruiser to make us wait. Wait while they checked if I had any warrants out for my arrest. Wait while they checked if the vehicle was stolen. Wait while they checked if I was on a list of known terrorists. Wait while they checked to see if I was some illegal alien who’d taken this white woman and her child hostage. Wait to see if they could piss me off so that I got angry and did something they actually could arrest me for.

But I sat still. We all sat still. Oh yeah, I mumbled a few curses for my own benefit, but I kept perfectly still with my right arm resting on the passenger seat and my left arm propped up on the driver’s side door—all in plain view.

After another ten or fifteen minutes, they got out of their cruiser. Again, one cop talked to me while the other stood at attention on the passenger side. Then, at last I had my ticket.

“Thank you officer,” I said, making an almost superhuman effort to suppress the slightest hint of sarcasm in my voice—because the words going through my mind were not at all thankful and would never be interpreted as polite.

But at last we were on our way again—to Strasburg, where Cristina’s Café was presenting murder mystery dinner theater that night.

It had been a hot summer evening, and getting stopped by the police was yet another incident on what had been a strange day for us in the valley. But we didn’t have much time to talk about it, or even to think about it right then, because we didn’t want to be late.  And as I drove on, I remembered what it was like when I was young and wished for the first time that I could hide my face or change it. When I wondered about all the things I might have to do differently if I ever wanted to get anywhere—or even to just stay right where I was.

-Jose Padua