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You Can't Be Patriotic in Spanish

President George W. Bush signs the Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2004 on October 1, 2003. (cc)

President George W. Bush signs the Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2004 on October 1, 2003. (cc)

I was walking down the street, humming a tune, when suddenly I found my path blocked by two men in dark suits, narrow ties and snap-brim hats.

One of them took his wallet out of his breast pocket and held it in front of my eyes, so close I couldn’t focus on it.

“Homeland Security,” he said. “Would you mind leaning against that wall over there sir?” “Pardon me?” I responded. I didn’t have any idea what he was talking about.

That’s when the other man grabbed me by the arm, threw me against the wall and snarled: “Lean he said.” “Don’t shoot,” I said. “My wallet’s in my back pocket. Take it. Just don’t shoot.” “Spread your legs,” the mean one said, then patted me down. “He’s clean,” he said to the other one.

“Look here, there must be some mistake. I am a semi-retired news….” “There’s no mistake. We heard you. You were humming the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’” “I don’t know what I was humming, I wasn’t paying attention. What’s the difference?” “It is illegal to hum the National Anthem in public.”

“Since when?” “Since the Great Decider, our President, decided it was.”


“Because how do we know you’re not humming in Spanish? How do we know you’re not signaling your wetback friends? It’s called conspiracy to incite patriotism among illegal aliens and you get five-to-ten for it with no possibility of parole.”

“This is absurd. I demand to see a lawyer. I have a right to see a lawyer.” “You guys make me sick, always whining about your rights. Traitors don’t have rights. Arrest him.”

And with that the mean one twisted my arms behind my back and put a pair of plastic cuffs on them. A black sedan pulled to the curb and they forced me into the back seat and tied a blindfold around my eyes.


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The next thing I knew I was in a bleak room, still blindfolded, standing on a box with my arms out.

“You’ll save us a lot of time if you confess,” a voice said. “You might be able to plead down to a charge of thinking about singing the National Anthem in Spanish, which would be a misdemeanor.” “How can I prove to you I don’t sing the National Anthem in Spanish? I sing it in English.” “Oh yeah? I’ll bet you don’t even know the words.” “I do too: ‘Oh say can you see…blah, blah, blah…rockets red glare…blah…bombs of the free, home of the brave…play ball.’ How’s that?” “Pathetic. Fidel Castro could do better than that.”

“Come on. Nobody knows the words to the National Anthem, not all of them. It sounds like it’s been translated from Bulgarian.”

“Mo, he doesn’t like the National Anthem.” “You’re digging yourself a pretty big hole, Mister. Do you speak Spanish?” “Not really.”

“What’s that mean?” “I know a few useful phrases. You know ‘Don’t forget to dust under the bed.’ ‘Do not trim the azaleas.’ That sort of thing.” “He speaks Spanish. Wire him up.” I could feel them attaching electrodes to my arms and legs.

“There’s been a terrible mistake made here. I am a semi-retired…Ow!”

“OK mister, let’s get to the nitty gritty. Do you now or have you ever belonged to a humming society?” “What kind of society?” “A humming society, one that meets in secret and hums patriotic songs in foreign tongues.” “No, of course not. I’ve never even…Ow! Stop doing that.”

“This one’s going to be a tough nut to crack, Larry. He sounds like a Fifth Amendment hummer to me.” “The tougher they are, the louder the crack, Mo. Let’s turn up the juice all the way. We’ll see how tough he really is.” The last thing I remember was that voice, saying: “Hasta la vista, Baby.” Then everything went black.

That’s when I woke up. It was a dream. Thank Goodness I live in the United States of America and something like that could never happen here.

Donald Kaul

Donald Kaul

Donald Kaul wrote newspaper columns for half a century, beginning with a long stint at the Des Moines Register that made him a household name (in a good way) throughout Iowa. Kaul, who was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist for commentary in 1987 and 1999, wrote for OtherWords for many years, right on up to his retirement. He passed away in July 2018 and was lovingly memorialized throughout Iowa, the Midwest, and the journalistic world.

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