Pizza, Ice Cream, and the First Amendment
February 22, 2005
By Mark Drolette
I got lucky the other day. (No, I'm not talking about that
kind of lucky. What do you think I am, a "family values" Republican
at a convention?)
What I mean is that I was fortunate to meet a couple of real-life
patriots: Stephen and Virginia Pearcy. They're the folks who live
one neighborhood over from me whose recent anti-war displays at
their house sparked some, um, discussion - both locally and nationally.
Well, not exactly discussion discussion. More like brainless
name-calling and misplaced outrage from folks who are apparently,
as we say in the constitutional-awareness recognition biz, "First
The Pearcys hung a mock-up of an American solider, with a noose
around its neck and a sign that said "Your tax dollars at work,"
from their house's gable. I first found out about it on Thursday
night, February 10, when, for some still-unexplainable reason, I
was watching the local news. Within about thirty seconds, I was
reminded of why I should not ever, ever do this again.
The on-the-scene talking head said something like: "In a neighborhood
where patriotism runs deep, the display has got some people very
upset." I'm still not sure how he'd determined the exact depth of
Land Park's patriotism - perhaps he used a meter. At any rate, I
was on the phone to his station in a hot Sacramento second.
The gist of the conversation: "Your reporter just clearly implied
that only people who are upset by the Pearcys' message are patriotic,
while those against the Iraq war are not."
The woman responded, pleasantly, "Really? I didn't get that at
"Well, I did, and I called because I wanted to register a complaint,
for what it's worth." (Estimated net value of objection: imagine
the egg of a large goose.)
The next day, Friday, a young man stole the dummy soldier. We
know it was a young man because the appalling, Constitution-affronting
episode was captured on videotape.
Saturday, I had a hankering for my favorite ice cream: peppermint
stick from Vic's Ice Cream Inc, an old-time parlor. A main route
to Vic's runs through the Pearcys' neighborhood. I kept my peepers
peeled on the off chance I'd espy their residence, for these were
folks I definitely wanted to meet. Fate was smiling. As I was heading
down 2nd Avenue, I noticed several media trucks on a side thoroughfare.
Employing my lightening fast analytical skills, I deduced I had,
indeed, gotten lucky.
I parked my truck with its "Free Palestine" and "Doing My Part
To Piss Off The Religious Right" bumper stickers on the Pearcys'
street, vaguely wondering if, now that I was a marked interloper
in Sacramento's newly-designated hotbed of patriotism, I'd find
the windows retaining their current structural integrity upon my
return. I walked up to the Pearcy porch, noticing a new dummy had
been hung (sans noose) with a different sign: "Bush lied.
The Pearcys smilingly invited me in through the open door. Much
great conversation ensued as other supportive and appreciative folks
periodically dropped by.
I asked if the thief had been caught yet (other than full-face
on camera, that is). Steve said no, that the cops said they couldn't
identify him and hadn't even physically come by to take a report.
Yet, they'd had no trouble responding (with two squad cars approaching
hurriedly from different directions, no less) the day that a neighbor
phoned in a complaint about a gay pride flag hanging in the Pearcys'
I asked Steve and Virginia if their display was meant as a protest
of the administration's policy of using the U.S. military as fodder
for prosecuting an evil and immoral war solely for power and profit,
or was it instead a personal attack on American soldiers? I'd been
instantly certain it was the former, but I wanted to double-check.
My take was correct, they assured me. Steve said he'd even related
the symbol's connotation to critics and had been told in response,
"No, that's not what it means." As Steve said, "How often does one
get to talk to the artist to find out exactly what the meaning is?"
I left after about 45 minutes, but not before telling them they
were on my list of heroes and exchanging contact information with
them. I finished my ice cream run and later consumed the tasty commodity.
It was good.
Within a very short time, the Pearcys' second dummy soldier was
stolen. They live in Berkeley during the week and in Sacramento
on weekends, and were in the Bay Area when it happened, so were
not here to put up another display were they even so inclined. No
matter; the story was already widespread.
The usual right-wing suspects - bloggers, DJs, talking heads,
pundits - were predictably frothing at their vitriol-spewing orifices.
The Pearcys were roasted, skewered, lambasted, ridiculed, insulted,
slammed, crucified - and those were from their kinder detractors.
Their supporters were similarly slandered. Naturally, a "counter-vigil"
was planned outside the Pearcy's home by their opponents.
I had to go, of course. I e-mailed my best buddy, Mark W. Bradley,
and asked him if he was game, which, of course, he was. (Mark lives
in my neighborhood and is also a published political essayist.)
I also e-mailed the Pearcys to lend support and ask if there was
anything we could bring, like sodas or pizza. Steve's reply said
pizza sounded great. I was in heaven. A chance to actively defend
the Constitution and eat pizza at the same time! It gets no better
Early that evening, we picked up the extra-large combination delight
(with pan crust, extra crispy) and headed over to the festivities.
I'd not eaten since morning and that pizza was calling my name.
Mark and I didn't know what to expect, of course. It had been
raining steadily all day and as it turned out, would continue to
do so throughout the evening, letting up only sporadically. I had
visions of a light turnout because of the weather and filled my
head with thoughts of the Pearcys, Mark, and myself, communally
chowing down on savory comfort food in the warmth of the Pearcy
home, discussing our love of the Constitution, while a handful of
clueless "patriots" stood outside in the downpour (rightfully exercising
their First Amendment liberties, of course), desperately trying
to keep their candles lit.
This is why I am not a professional seer. As we drove by, we saw
there were plenty of people on both sides of the narrow street,
with signs, banners, candles (which were staying lit) - and lots
of energy. I'd estimate the peak attendance was about 150-200 for
each group; it was interestingly even.
There were also lots of corporate newsies, replete with satellite
vans, microphones, cameras, and writing pads. I wanted nothing to
do with them and had already formulated a response if asked for
comments. I was gonna adopt my best squinty-eyed look and sniff:
"I refuse to help further the corporate media's agenda." But nary
a one sought my insight the entire evening.
We parked a couple of blocks away and made our way through the
crowd to the dry Pearcy porch. Virginia and Steve hadn't arrived
from Berkeley yet. I warily placed the pizza box on the little bench,
and Mark and I stood there, surveying the scene. A few folks, including
reporters and cops, wanted to know if we were in charge. A couple
people even asked me, "Are you Steve?"
Perhaps the pizza had given us cachet.
We wandered about. Mark ventured further than I, as I felt compelled
to keep an eye on the food. Two displays had already been stolen
from the property, and I was too famished to let some covert varmint
vamoose with the victuals.
The Pearcys pulled up, and when they got to the porch, I gave
them the pizza and, feeling protective, told them to go inside and
decompress for a few minutes. That was the last I saw of the extra-large
combination delight (with pan crust, extra crispy). However, if
there is one thing I've learned over the years, it is that there
actually are more important things than pizza. It's a short list,
certainly, but defending the Constitution is definitely on it. In
fact, it steadfastly occupies spot number one.
Steve had mentioned during our initial meeting how he was hoping
to engage in civil discussion with those opposed to his and Virginia's
views, which, of course, speaks to the very essence of the First
Amendment: the free and open exchange of differing ideas, with the
underlying hope that agreements can be made, consensuses reached,
to help a functional society develop and flourish.
There were a lot of exchanges on their street that night, to be
sure, but not of ideas. In addition to singing and lots of yelling,
the back-and-forth consisted of taunts and chants, the latter category
containing our critics' favorite: "Shame on you!"
I mostly hung back from the fray, but after hearing the above
refrain once too often, I dipped deep within my well of wit and
exclaimed: "For what??"
No great conversation ensued.
And, naturally, one of the hackneyed slogans that confronted us,
emblazoned upon a banner, was: "Support our troops."
I'd like to know, once and for all, just what the hell this is
supposed to mean, cause it certainly can't mean taking but five
minutes to search the Internet or listen to two butchered half-sentences
from Bush or even read a corporate media newspaper and then using
even a dollop of critical thinking to conclude anything other than
that the truly American way to "support our troops" is by uncompromisingly
refuting this depraved administration's horrifying, senseless sacrifice
of even one of them in its insane pursuit to militarily solidify
U.S. global power and rape the world's citizens for every last possible
Because if it did, those people would have been standing on our
side of the street.
How does one reason with those who cannot reason? Ryan Rose, in
a piece on The Sacramento Union website, included a mind-bending
but oh-so commonly characteristic quote from demonstration participant
Regina Aponte, with whom it's fortunate for all Star Trek lovers
Mr. Spock never attempted a mind meld lest his brain explode from
Aponte, who apparently saw the classic Talking Heads movie Stop
Making Sense and took the title seriously, emitted this Gordian
knot-headed assessment of what the Constitution means to her:
"The Pearcys have crossed a line and offended the hearts of Americans.
What the Pearcys have done is a slap in the face to those who have
given their lives for the voice of the very freedoms the Pearcys
say they are acting upon."
There are three things wrong with Aponte's sentiment, a view shared
by way, way, way too many Americans:
1. It's stupid.
2. It's stupid.
3. It's bullshit.
Because, as anyone with even a brain remnant knows, U.S. soldiers
are not dying in Iraq to protect any "rights" other than those of
Halliburton and other corporations run by administration cronies.
Which is exactly the Pearcys' message. This, though, is obviously
way over the pointy heads of those who claim American soldiers have
killed and been killed so we can stick the First Amendment and its
sister liberties into fusty glass bottles with frayed labels that
say: "For Use Only at Your Own Risk of Being Called a Communist
or Some Other Nasty Name."
I had two overriding thoughts while I stood on the Pearcys' lawn
that have stayed with me since: One is that Karl Rove would be pleased.
Here were a few hundred U.S. citizens expending time and energy
trying to outshout one another, when all of that power should be
focused eastward full force to oppose the fascists running the show
in Washington, D.C.
The other is that that would never happen because the people on
the opposing sidewalk just don't have it in them to ponder such
a notion. They are America's "good Germans," the ones without whose
support Bushco could never survive. They are inarguably complicit
in the utterly pointless deaths of nearly 1500 and wounding of about
11,000 U.S. soldiers, unconscionable slaughter of uncounted thousands
of innocent Iraqis, and irrefutable dismantling of our democratic
system - and we're the traitors?
Mark and I left after about three hours. The next day, Steve e-mailed
thanks for the "'collateral' support" and said it had come in handy
on his and Virginia's drive back to Berkeley. He also extended a
warm invite for me to come by their abode any weekend.
I plan to take him up on that; it's not often I get to spend time
with special folks like the Pearcys. Heck, I might even bring another
pizza! (But I think I'll make sure first there aren't any demonstrations