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Bohemian Blasphemy

An American flag? In our lobby? The war on Iraq comes home to one West Village building.

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It began as a simple gesture -- well, simple anywhere but in the Village. After September 11, a doorman at 61 Jane Street hung an American flag in the spacious, well-appointed lobby. Recently, that flag was replaced with a more permanent one, complete with an ersatz-gold pole topped with an ersatz-gold eagle.

Alas, the new Stars and Stripes soon had some residents up in arms: Amy Bauer and her partner, Donna Gould, slipped a letter under the doors of all 260 units, reading in part: "In this time of impending war with the people of Iraq, a show of the flag, to us, means a show of support for the Bush administration and its foreign policy."

Other anti-flaggers felt they were under attack on what should have been home turf. "One man called me a communist for wanting to remove the flag!" lamented a disgruntled resident. "Many of us moved to the Village because it was a bastion of liberalism. Some of the new residents, they're here because it's close to Wall Street!"

Hoping to resolve the debate, one resident, Romy Truscelli, circulated a survey with three options: pro-flag all the time, pro-flag only on holidays, anti-flag all the time. Last week, the issue came to a head at a meeting between the building's board and shareholders at the Westbeth Theater, where (after a debate on such other matters as toilet "flushometers") the results were announced. The majority had voted pro-flag on holidays.

Rising from his seat, longtime resident and anti-flagger Victor Cino was incensed: "I'm on the side of Henry David Thoreau," he cried, "who said that the majority is sometimes wrong!" A pro-flag woman cut in: "This is a time unlike any we've ever lived through. The flag stands for our country's beliefs!" She then added: "And I'm a pacifist!"

After one woman almost broke down in tears, and another managed to evoke anti-abortion activists and Saddam Hussein in the same sentence, a board member couldn't take any more. "While we're being so honest, I'd just like to say frankly that I think it's ridiculous that we even had to think about this," she said. "This is not the White House, this is not the Capitol."

"It's not even the Kremlin!" shouted another member.

There was a round of exhausted applause, and the issue was left up to the board. ("I feel good," said Bauer, "My prediction is they will either have it up at holidays or not at all.") One resident who was not on hand was Susan Brownmiller, feminist author of Against Our Will. "As a political activist, I view the whole thing with amusement," she said. "Though I do think it's important to remember that the meeting was for shareholders only, when a good portion of us, like myself, are renters. That's some kind of democracy, no?"


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