By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Slowrider took the stage, and then, at the end of the set, the lead singer grabbed to the mike once more and asked the crowd for a flag. After someone procured the donation from a neighboring home, he shocked me to the core with his second request. He asked for a lighter.
Tugs of guilt and understanding tore at my sides. Outnumbered, I watched as Old Glory disintegrated onstage and the crowd screamed its joyous approval.
Aztlán Underground appeared next, and as they played, I struggled with the feelings churning inside me. I support our troops and the war in Iraq, but I was also somehow feeling the vibe as A.U. sang the words: “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.”
Then it happened again: At the end of A.U.’s set, they prepared to burn another flag — this one much larger and newer. The event’s MC did the honors. He reminded the crowd to learn the true history, teach it to the children, and, as he lit the Stars and Stripes, said, “Teach them the traditions!”
I looked around, hoping that there was no one with a camera close enough to capture my image next to that burning flag. As the commander of my local American Legion post, an organization that each year lobbies Congress to enact a constitutional amendment protecting the flag, I was sure I was letting someone down.
Then the realization came to me that, as it stands today, no such flag amendment exists. The acts of dissent on that stage were completely legal, and with the simultaneous explosions of quarter sticks of dynamite and skyrockets everywhere, I felt a kind of guilty pride in the end. As a soldier, I understood that the bands onstage and all the people below were doing something that could never be done anywhere else but in the United States. And that’s what I’m fighting for.
Would You Believe . . .?
We spotted him as soon as we walked into the diner. Hunched over his breakfast, he looked like a cartoon vulture with his great wingspan and prominent beak.
“Is that Phil Jackson with Jeanie Buss?” I asked my buddy under my breath.
“Sure looks like it.”
When we were led to the booth right next to them, I felt as if I were getting a seat out of Jack Nicholson’s life, or every sports reporter’s dreams. It was just over a week after the Lakers’ crash-and-burn at the NBA finals and the almost immediate unceremonious dismissal of Coach Jackson on the orders of his girlfriend’s father, Dr. Jerry Buss. Like a couple of characters from Get Smart, we sat down awkwardly in our seats and pretended to peruse the newspaper nonchalantly while craning our necks and ears in their direction.
“. . . Well, Kupchak’s going to have to interview Rambis and Cleamons . . .”
Jeezuss, Jackson was right on point. Did we stumble upon some kind of negotiation? Was Jeanie there as girlfriend or envoy? And was Phil really as consumed with the open-ended questions swirling around the Lakers as the rest of us? It seemed a little weird that the so-called Zen master of basketball wouldn’t just leave the team’s troubles behind and head for the nearest mountain retreat. Weird, but lucky for us. I wondered what nuggets would spill from Phil’s loose lips like so much Tapatio sauce over my eggs. We tuned in.
Unfortunately, our spying skills were about as good as Maxwell Smart’s. We could only make out a few more fragments of conversation.
“. . . Shaquille . . .”
“. . . Kobe . . .”
What about Kobe?
“. . . Character . . .”
For all we knew, the answers to the hopes and dreams of millions of Lakers fans were hidden between those dots. But we just . . . couldn’t . . . connect them.
“Hey,” I said to my friend, who was seated with a view of the couple, “Phil Jackson seems like the sort who wouldn’t mind jawing sports with a couple of guys over breakfast. Maybe we should just turn around and ask him what the hell is going on?”
“Yeah, maybe,” my friend said, “but it’s too late.”
I looked behind me and Jackson was gone, probably for good.
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