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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

where (part 3)


There are parades today. Jets screaming overhead in formation, tanks rolling across cobblestones. The embassy sends out alerts, suggesting to Americans that they should stay inside on holidays like this There was a moment when I thought to try to stand in the crowd, saying not a word, my camera tucked under my arm sneaking pictures of faces and children, of soldiers and militia, the crisp lines of uniforms, the cheeks shaved smooth. 

But that is not what happened. I stayed at home. 

On friday I got to E's school on the early side, and wandered around behind it. Here, the river snakes through the city. The White House is just across from this spot, a bridge arcing across the water with flags snapping in the wind. I go to the left, as a party boat cruises past, no music pumping, no people bouncing on the upper deck. It is too early in the day for that. At one point an old man ambles past me, his medals clinking on a tattered jacket, ribbons and gold discs making a little song as they slap against each other. I take one picture as he passes, pretending to be looking at the White House and the water. He smirks, nods his head after I click. He is carrying a pink plastic bag that flaps around in the wind. 

I go back the other way, towards the little gas station that perches behind a hotel. A young woman is walking towards me in a black leather miniskirt, black shirt, black stilettos, black purse with a chunky gold chain on it. Her hair is more puffy balloon than anything else. I see her cotton candy pink lipstick, the big hoop earrings. Something tells me she is going to try to ask me something, that she is a prostitute. I am wrong. She says nothing, chin tucked towards her chest as she passes. I have pulled off two frames before this, with one of the gas pumpers smoking a cigarette in the background. I see her face, it looks too young for the clothing she wears as she cautiously clicks down the sidewalk. Later she will turn back, asking questions from men getting out of their cars as they pay for gas. Maybe she is lost. Maybe she needs to borrow a cel phone. I see them talking her for some time, and then driving away. 

I camp out across the street from the gas station. One guy is wearing no shirt, just overalls and he reminds me of a character in an early Wenders film - Kings of the Road.  The sun goes behind a cloud. I check the meter, framing up the empty street, the red and white smokestacks in the distance. The girl in the miniskirt is still making her way up and down the sidewalk. 

I go back to the school, where children are running with jackets twisted around their waists, where E appears, her face lighting up when she sees me. 



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