Thursday, September 04, 2008

America the Beautiful

FELLOW AMERICANS: Natalie (left) and Margie Clark.

The Clarks of New Jersey often worry about the dangers of patriotism, described by Bertrand Russell as “the chief curse of our age.” But the Spirit of 76 is alive and well in our house, and George Washington’s portrait hangs lovingly in a place of honor above our fireplace mantel.

It was with this love of country that Margie took the 9:17 a.m. train to Newark this morning, to become a citizen of the United States of America. She aced her citizenship test – a perfect score. Then, on the 15th floor of a federal building on Broad Street, she raised her right hand and swore loyalty to the U.S.A., the first country in the history of the world to turn its back on Kings, Popes and Emperors.

Natalie, Theo and Daddy arrived in Newark in time to see Islamic spiritual leader Mohamed Qatanani’s press conference, during which he praised immigration officials for allowing him to remain in the U.S., despite alleged links to Hamas, the ruling political party of Palestine. Qatanani smiled at Natalie as the conference dispersed.

For dramatic effect, I now switch to the present tense:

The doors to the room holding the swearing-in ceremony are locked. A lawyer of some kind knocks. He exchanges words with a security guard. Doors open. Natalie, Theo and Casey sneak into the back of the room in time to witness the historic moment. (Note: the oath took place at about 1:45 p.m.) We are told that no standing is allowed, sit here not there, and the children must be very quiet. We promise to be good.

George W. Bush appears on a video, and warmly welcomes the new group of Americans while reminding them of their sacred duties. I reflect on how I have often criticized Mr. Bush, but I resolve to commend him for his expert handling of this immigration video.

Bush disappears. Applause all around. We spot Margie in the back row. She doesn’t see us. A second video plays on the large room’s multiple screens, this one of the tear-jerking lighthouse and Grand Canyon variety. It’s accompanied by Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American.” A Chinese man – that is, a Chinese-American man -- wipes tears from his face. A blond immigration official, without warning, hands Natalie and Theo tiny American flags. They hold them awkwardly. I silently protest the choice of music: why can’t we have “America the Beautiful,” the most stirring anthem known to man? More applause. Congratulations.

Margie is filing out of the room with her row. She sees us! What a sight. Natalie and Theo are waving little flags the family section with all the Muslims and Russian Mafioso. Margie turns on a high-voltage smile – her first as a U.S. Citizen!

Congratulations, Margie. You aced the test, you earned your papers, and now we can live happily ever after!

# # # Reader Participation # # #

What’s YOUR favorite patriotic song?

Monday, September 01, 2008

In the City of Brotherly Love

Caption: Geno's Steaks in South Philly, where Jim Brose joined the Clarks for dinner.

Some families are battleships when it comes to vacations: big, lumbering hulks of heavy steel and artillery that take a long time to change direction. The Clarks of New Jersey are PT boats, darting in and out of the waves with freedom and dexterity.

On Saturday, we decided to spend two nights in Philadelphia, so off we went. After Margie’s yoga class, we drove into downtown Philly to the historic Courtyard by Marriott, across the street from the world famous City Hall.

The Philadelphia Zoo was the star attraction, and it certainly entertained the entire family. Natalie asked: “Will the animals be locked, so they won’t get me?” Of course, Natalie. (Except for the golden lion monkeys.)

Some other highlights:

• Dinner at Genos. Philly cheese steak sandwiches are a big deal in South Philly, and Daddy’s friend Jim Brose joined the Clarks for dinner at Geno’s, the biggest, gaudiest cheesesteak joint in town. Interestingly, Pat’s across the street has the better sandwich. We conducted a side-by-side taste test.

• Please Touch Me Museum. Theo and Natalie loved this place. (Thanks for the recommendation, Mr. Brose.) There were about 30 distinct areas, and the children ran to each new adventure with undiminished enthusiasm. There was Alice in Wonderland, Where the Wild Things Are, and a supermarket for kids, all touchable. The museum will reopen in a new location Oct. 18. We will certainly return.

• Swimming in the hotel. Theo and Natalie both used their “swimmies” to keep their head above water. Theo is getting a little more comfortable in the water, but he still hesitates to submerge his face. Mommy and Daddy enjoyed the hot tub. So did the kids.

Oh great City of Brotherly Love, birthplace of freedom and liberty (within reason, of course) and cheesesteak, the Clarks of New Jersey salute you!