Why do we Stand?

It’s morning at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.  Welders, electricians, shipfitters, and engineers alike settle in to begin their day working to repair the pacific naval fleet.  The rain pounds the asphalt as I walk from my office to the machine shop for a work brief, ill equipped for the weather as usual.  It’s been this way for weeks now, as is the norm in the Puget Sound, with no signs of a respite.  Any second now, a trumpet will sound through the loud speakers, signaling the national anthem.  All that are inside are free to go about their business while the it plays.  However, those caught outside are instructed to stop what they’re doing and stand at attention.  I pick up the pace and walk briskly to the door, fast enough to make it in inside, slow enough not to bring about unnecessary attention.  I’m almost there, mere seconds from sanctuary—

“Badum, badum!” the trumpet plays.  Only a few steps separate me from the entrance of the shop.  I hesitate.  My mind goes into hyperdrive.  Do I sneak in?  I don’t want to be late for the meeting.  Besides, I don’t think anybody will even notice, and who would blame me if I did?  Nobody will ever see…


If you’ve ever spent an extended period of time on a military base, most likely you’ve had a similar experience, especially if you are stuck in extreme weather conditions.  Every morning at 0800, the Star-Spangled Banner rings throughout the base, and every morning, everybody who is outside stands at attention out of respect for our military, including me, no matter how many thoughts vacillate through my head.

So, it’s no surprise that several different emotions ran through me last Sunday as I watched players kneel during the anthem, or link arms to make a statement that didn’t seem to have much to do with the anthem.  I was angry, even furious at times.  The headlines on CNN, “NFL players take a knee in defiance of Trump,” didn’t make matters any better.  “How could somebody be so disrespectful to a country that has given them so much?” I thought or, “Why protest like this?  Why make a political statement at the expense of the American Flag?” or perhaps the most egregious, “What are they doing?  This kneeling crap’s going to screw up my fantasy team (which it did)…”

At the same time, I was sad.  Watching the demonstrations take place, it was almost as if I no longer recognized the country that I had grown up in.  I felt that I could never watch a game and cheer for a team I loved so much the same way ever again.  It was as if by a single gesture, all the excitement, the entire livelihood of the NFL had been sucked out of me.  Perhaps the worst part was that I didn’t see a single leader of the NFL, the coaches, commissioner, or any of the broadcasters have the courage to say what those players were doing on the field was wrong.

After all, standing for the national anthem is a practice that’s been entrenched into most of us since we were young.  It’s an anthem that often gives me goosebumps, and even a little swell in my heart after a beautiful and emotional rendition.  And I hate to admit, but during times of inebriation, I’ve admittedly sang the anthem at the top of my lungs like a jackass.  But if you’re anything like me, for most of your life, you’ve stood with your hand over your heart, many times just to go through the motions, never really stopping to ask the question, “why is it so important to stand for the national anthem?”

Many of the reasons the players chose to kneel were well expressed, most stemming from the that inequalities still exist in our country and that social justice must be attained before they choose to stand again, a viewpoint exacerbated by Trump’s recent comments.  And how much can I argue that inequalities don’t exist?  After all, we are a country that for better or worse, has been through a lot since its inception, born with its ailments, or foibles perhaps, that the founders knew couldn’t be cured with just the stroke of a pen.  They were shortcomings that would take years of pain, suffering, and intense battle to overcome.

“America is great because she is good.  If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great,” said Alexis de Toqueville, the French diplomat who had spent a copious amount of time studying democracy in the early years of the United States, eventually authoring, “Democracy in America.” The founders shared de Toqueville’s sentiment that the American citizenry consisted of a good-hearted, God-fearing people, and had faith that they could, and would carry out the dream of a free society if given the chance.  With this, they were granted the power to choose its leaders through a representative Republic, with the ability to form, to quote from our constitution, “a more perfect union,” of which many risked and sacrificed their business, riches, security, and in some cases, lives to fight against all odds, against the most powerful nation on the planet, so that one day, maybe, just maybe they could secure this dream for the American people.

We are a country that in order to remain united and survive past its infancy, had to accept the inhumane practice of slavery.  And although slavery existed, the founders knew the system of government they had set in place would allow the will of the people to eventually right its wrongs and put an end to the practice.  And with a war that cost the lives of roughly a million Americans, a great president, and nearly divided our country for good, we paid our debts and were able to overcome this evil.

We are a country that continues to fight against the evils of racism to this day.  During the civil rights movement of the sixties, people of all backgrounds fought against many powerful institutions to pronounce the treatment of a group of people based on their race is wrong, and it must be stopped.  And through peaceful protest, heavy persistence, and battling past the constant threat of violence, those who had fought so long for fair and equal treatment won the argument and changed the hearts of Americans alike.

We are a country who continues this rejection of prejudice to this day.  At the recent riots in Charlottesville, while many in the media screamed of fear and the rise of fascism, white supremacy and racism, I saw a swath of Americans who came together to take a stand against a vile display hate and anger.  The hundreds of demonstrators that came to protest that day were highly outnumbered by the voices denouncing them from all around the country, voices that aren’t afraid to speak out, not matter where the source of such evil comes from.

And when it comes to evil, we are a country who has had a proven track record against it.  On December 7th, 1941, there was little hesitation from our country to take action after the attack on Pearl Harbor, judging by the response of our leaders and the abundance of young men willing to join the military to take a stand against the Nazi’s and Imperialist Japan.  And like the soldiers of the American Revolution, Civil War, and other wars before them, they fought, risked, and sacrificed, from the beaches of Normandy to the islands of the Pacific, enduring the harshest of conditions and all horrors that come with war.  They fought to defeat this evil, for there was a belief that what they were fighting for was something greater than themselves, that although they may fall, their brothers would fight on to secure their way of life, that their sacrifice may result in a much better world for their friends, family, and the rest of the world.

We are a country who from the beginning, has always promoted science and innovation.  Not by force and coercion, but by allowing the pursuit of happiness to take its course, to let one take command of his or her own ideas, dreams, and visions of the world and watch them flourish.  Through this, we’ve built and powered great cities, from New York to San Francisco.  We’ve taken command of the internet, unleashed its power and provided an infinite catalogue of knowledge and the ability to connect with people thousands of miles away with just the click of a button.  All throughout our history, we’ve created thousands of other inventions most of which go unnoticed in the day to day grind: the automobile, airplane, iPhone with GPS capabilities, indoor plumbing and waste treatment, air conditioning, electricity, fresh drinking water, refrigeration, an MRI machine, Disneyland, Nintendo, Instagram, and the list goes on.  Thousands—millions of inventions that make our lives better, each and every day, most of which are taken for granted by everyday citizens, including myself.

We are a country that promotes the free expression of art, creative ideas, and different modes of thinking.  And through the advancement of music and motion pictures, artists continue to find ways to experiment and express themselves, creating art that touches our hearts and makes us laugh, cry, and at times jump up with excitement.  By watching films like the Godfather, Forrest Gump, Star Wars, or any John Hughes movie, or by attending your favorite band’s concert, whether it be Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Metallica, or Kenny Chesney, this art holds a deeply emotional and significant impact on our lives and has changed the way we view the world.

I mean, c’mon, we are a country that put a man on the mother f’n moon for God’s sake!  Excuse my language, but think about this for a second.  Back in the day when the Pilgrims came over, it took 2 to 3 months just to sail across the ocean, one way, and this ain’t your luxury Carnival Cruise we’re talkin’.  These trips sucked, and if you wanted to go and visit Europe, you best believe you were gonna stay there for a long ass time.  Then, America was born, and in less than 200 years, we flew a couple of dudes into space, traveled nearly a million miles, landed on the moon, and brought their asses back to Earth in a little over a week!  That’s incredible!  (And if you’re one of those people that believe the moon landing was a hoax, Buzz Aldrin will come and punch you in the face!)

Imagine Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson talking about this after they wrote the Declaration of Independence.  “You know Tom, after we get this forming a country stuff figured out, someday, we’re gonna walk on that big old moon up there.”  Forget about it.  It never happened!  And who could blame them?  The country they helped form was able to do something inconceivable, something that nobody in their wildest dreams could’ve ever thought possible, a feat no other country has ever been able to do, ever!  Man, if they were alive today, they’d be damn proud of what this country has accomplished.

Somebody once shared a quote from John Adams that has stuck with me, “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.”  These great men who set the foundation for this country, who did the heavy lifting and hard work in its early days, and those who, to this day, serve to protect our country, our freedom, and our way of life, who allow us to live peacefully without the threat of anybody taking that away, it’s these people who allow us to live our lives as we see fit.  It’s these great men and women who allow people like me to drink Rockstar energy drinks and share silly stories of my misfortunes when I should be studying mathematics and philosophy.  It’s these same people who provide artists like Kanye West the opportunity to share their crazy views while creating their amazing beats without the fear of censorship.  It’s these people who give us the luxury to watch, play, and celebrate a game in which two teams try to carry a pigskin across a field.

It’s these people of whom we are indebted to, of whom deserve our deepest gratitude.

And above all, we are a country that comes together during the tough times.  I’ll never forget September 11, 2001, watching on a 13-inch television set in Mr. Rayburn’s science class as a Junior in High School when both towers of the World Trades Center came down, knowing that the one and only world I ever knew would be changed forever.  And I’ll never forget the emotions felt during that time, the amount of pride I felt as an American, in my fellow countrymen, seeing almost every single person I knew set aside their differences and unite to heal as a country.

It’s a spirit of lending a helping hand to our fellow man that continues to this day, as I watch several strangers come together, donating their time, money, and efforts to provide aid and rebuild the lives of victims of the hurricanes in Texas and Florida.

I see the national anthem as an allegory for this type of spirit.  Played before times of intense battle and divisiveness, where fans will relentlessly jaw insults back and forth and two teams will spend 60 minutes pounding the crap out of each other, we all can take a moment to stand with our hands on our hearts, to remember that there are things in this world and in our lives that are bigger than us, bigger than Donald Trump, that there are principles we all can unite around.

We can take a moment to reflect on those great men and women, admittedly greater than myself who have served and those who have shaped this great country through art, innovation, risk, and sacrifice into what it is today, to allow us to partake in such coveted pastimes such as the NFL.  It’s a reminder that someday, through hard work, patience, and sacrifice, we too may become the great men of our generation.  It’s a reminder that though our country is not perfect, nor will it ever will be, we have the ability to change, to strive towards a more perfect union.  Our system of government allows it.

…It reminds us that America is great because she is good, and despite our differences, the flag and the anthem unite us.  It always has.  It is the single most unifying symbol we have.

If anything good has come out of the craziness of this kneeling fiasco, it’s given me a chance to reaffirmed my beliefs on standing for the anthem and the importance behind it.  It’s given me the opportunity to articulate my views so that others who do not know better may understand.  Never again will I question whether or not I should try to sneak in at the last second to avoid having to listen to the anthem for a minute on a military base.  And as long as America remains great, I will always stand at attention when the anthem is played, on base or at a sporting events, no matter the weather.  I will show respect for the American flag, and I ask you to do the same.

I ask you to set politics aside, and remember the reasons as to why it’s important to show this respect when our anthem is played.  I implore you to search within yourself, to look at the big picture, to remember that even with the present inequalities or injustices you may see in your life (and trust me, I have a list of my own), that there is so much more good than bad that has come about from this country and from the people living in it.

I implore you to stand next to me with your hand on your heart, unified.

Chapter 25: Out of the Vein, Part 3

It sounded like snickers coming from outside, but there was no way of confirming, at least not at this time. Alone I sat in the bathroom, once again forced to purvey over violent expulsions, a chronic theme that held the potential for serious medical attention, tremendous and erratic with each blow; a reaction over the abundance of booze and beef that had entered my body the night before—it had to be. There was no other explanation, not for this early morning episode—ugha—not again!

Pressure mounted from the inside, building and begging for a release, testing the structural integrity of my internal components, and nearing the threshold. I took my time, as would any logical test conductor; a clean discharge depended on it. Sweat poured out from my face, my breath’s deep and heavy, yet composed—always cool under pressure, that’s my motto. Steady now, no need to rush things. My muscles relaxed. Nice and slow, allow the natural order of things to once again take its place—

Whoa! Disaster struck at the sound of a thunderous boom; a colossal movement of eradication, leaving in its wake a heaping pile of destruction. The aftermath was just as curious. Strange noises could be heard, a relapse of imminent catastrophe, the combination of snickers and choking, oddly following the reverb of each push, and continuing to do so throughout the duration of my agonizing ordeal.

“What could it be? It’s 8 in the morning, no way could Bill and Gretch be awake. Impossible!” I shrugged it off, realizing it was the least of my worries at this point and refocused my efforts on the enormous struggle ahead of me—there was nothing else I could do.

It was another 20 unpleasant minutes before the rest of the chaos could be ultimately expelled, a process that involved large excretions of unwanted sweat and unnecessary energy, as well as a heavy clean up effort at the end. Ok. Just flush, slip away quietly, and nobody will be the wiser. Nobody…

I pulled the lever and watched as the toilet pushed a large mound of disorder deep into the catacombs of biological waste. Down it went, swirling and mixing into an eventual disappearance, moving closer towards it final resting place. Good. Keep going, keep going—wait, what’s going on? Don’t stop! Why aren’t you moving? Go down—down, not up! No! Stop, please… STOP— “Ohhhh no!”

An explosion of laughter burst through the walls of the bathroom, a full frontal assault on my privacy. I shot my head back and forth in a panic. What the—where’s it coming from? I looked to the door; locked. No way they’d get in through there. I lifted my head, then faded up towards the ceiling, and hauntingly remembered. The walls. They don’t reach the top of the ceiling! We’re connected… Oh God, they heard the whole thing—

“What’s going on in there?” hollered Lea from a distance.

“Uhh… nothing—nothing at all.” I darted back and forth in desperate search of some saving grace. “Say, you wouldn’t happen keep a plunger around the cabin, just in case something bad happens, would you?”




Any issue with a clogged toilet died quickly; nothing a few plunges couldn’t take care of. Besides, there were much more prudent issues facing us on that somber morning that trumped getting worked up over some stinkin’ toilet. I was going home, and this time, I was leaving my travel companions behind… for good.

I took my time packing my bags, holding out on the inevitable by ensuring absolutely nothing was left behind, anything I could do to delay the eventual goodbye. Strewn clothes scattered about the floor, another peculiar and perpetual theme of the trip that brought about flashes of the La Quinta Inn debacle and the rush from the Dude Rancher Lodge back into my immediate recollection, also aiding in my prolonged departure. I walked back and forth across the room, picking up each article of clothing one at a time, an excuse to observe all of the antiques sitting on the nightstand and hanging on the walls. Their presence provided momentary solace, artifacts that sparked a nostalgic reflection, becoming more captivating with each pass.

Pieces of jewelry passed down from generation to generation sat, having been around many necks of many family members throughout many decades, or clasped onto ears of different shape, size, and age; beautiful gems worn on occasions of love, celebration, heartbreak, and tradition amongst a host of others, many of those surely spent at the Pony Bar during a good portion of the 20th century. Pictures ranging from old to not so old spread between family heirlooms, scattered in a random, yet natural arrangement, a historical timeline of the Dutcher heritage. It was as if they were connecting Bill, Gretch, and Lea with past relatives, waiting for their deeply rooted traditions to be passed on to future generations, so they too could continue the story, as did their ancestors before them.

And now, for a long moment I stared, deep into the old family pictures, stuck in a trance and ignorant of any possessions or action occurring outside the bounds of that room. For that long moment, the commotion inside the cabin, the quiet commerce of Pony, the stresses of work, life, and the millions of problems plaguing the world, all of it became non-existent in the face of Medusa, leaving everything in that room frozen but for an idea, a glimmer of hope left floating in my head and barely hanging on, just enough to make me believe. I’ll make time stand still. Right here, right now, forever. I’ll never have to leave. And why can’t I? If only just for another long moment…




Lea, Gretch, and Bill lined up perpendicular to the doorway where my bags lay. I walked back from the refrigerator to confront the trio having retrieved the last of my coveted possessions, a final Rockstar for the ride home, beginning the awkward process of saying goodbye, something none of us wanted any part of, not even Gretch.

“Lea,” I began, having to take a deep breath before continuing. “Thank you for the hospitality—for letting me call this place home. I heard so many good things through the years and… I’m just glad I finally got the experience.”

“Oh,” was all she replied before delivering a smile coupled with the placement of her hand on her heart in a sign of flattery. “We had so much fun.” We went in for a hug. “You take care of yourself Zack. Thank you for looking after those guys this whole time.”

“It was the very least I could do…”

Gretch and I now stood face-to-face, careful not to show any sort of emotion towards each other. “Gretch,” I said, exaggerating the schwa in her name, a particular habit in Appalachian dialect I picked up over the years from conversations with my east coast relatives, as my parting words had not yet entered my head. “I just… I—“ What in the—there’s that stupid lump in my throat again! What the hell? “I think that—“ Oh my God, you’re choking up. Knock it off—get a grip, man!” “I’ll see ya,” I quickly said in a forced confession, giving her a quick pat on the shoulder. C’mon man. “I mean… I think I might—maybe I’ll… I’ll miss you.” My words somehow broke through her emotional armor, revealing a genuine smile for the first time, followed by a hug. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a genuine smile on my face either.

But something hit over during mid-hug. There was a revelation, similar to a message from God, only much stronger. My mind turned to mush, letting the unnatural presence take total control of my body. My jaws moved up and down, involuntarily instructed through a manipulation of muscles working to force out an unfamiliar language of spoken tongue, and succeeding quite magnificently, moving so fast that by the time a coherent thought could be sorted and analyzed through my head, the next one was already spoken—ultimate diarrhea of the mouth.

“Hey Gretch, I don’t know what you’re doing next month, or the month after, or even the month after that, but if I’m in Boise, which I might be, maybe we should get together for a drink, kind of like a date—well, not a date, but I guess it could be—I mean, with Bill’s permission of course—I know, we can go to Applebee’s! And I’m buying—that is, as long as it’s on the 2 of $20 menu—and only if you want to, which I’m sure you will—I know how you guys can’t pass up a free drink, heheh—“

“Oh my God!” Gretch scoffed and brushed the incident off, retreating to the den to act as if she was embarrassed by what had just taken place. Lea watched the interaction, shaking her head with a smile of pleasant disbelief that permanently stuck to her face.

I turned to Bill, delivering unto him a shrug of the shoulders and a sheepish grin. He took in a deep breath that lifted his entire upper torso, leaving on his face a sheepish grin of his own. “You need some help taking anything to your car?” he asked.

“Yea… yea I’d like that.”




I squeezed my suitcase, a case of beer, and enough old fashioned ingredients and whiskey to kill an elephant into the trunk. Bill placed my backpack and a few other items in the backseat and shut the door, leaving nothing but strands of overgrown brush bent by a warm gust of wind between Bill and I, two friends standing in silence in the essence of continental America’s final frontier. “Well, I guess this is it,” he said after a long pause, not knowing what else to say. I was thankful he spoke, for I didn’t have the words either. I hardly ever do, especially during moments like this.

“It’s been one hell of a trip,” I said to him, meeting him in a handshake that eventually turned into a hug.

“I’m really glad this happened. You don’t think this is the end, do you?”

“I don’t think so—no, it won’t be. But if so, for some God forsaken reason, I guess you can say we had one hell of an ending.” We shared a chuckle and then once again stood apart from each other, wishing we had more words to share. Nothing came to mind. In the absence of dialogue however laid a recognition, one too difficult to explain in a single goodbye. Something had changed during that two-week venture through the heartland of America and back, a growth between two men, an ultimate culmination of brotherhood. Something we can’t quite explain, but will never forget.

“I’ll see you soon my friend. Message us when you get home.”

“Will do. Take care Bill.”




The lyrics of Third Eye Blind played through the speakers of the Benz as I made my departure from Pony that late morning with a full can of Rockstar in hand, leaving me with much to think about on the drive to my parents’ house in Spokane, Washington.

I drove the coast just to see you
Why’d you take so long?
And I get that you know that I miss you and I
I know something’s wrong…

And then you speak to me
And everything is easy…

I’ve yet to come across anybody who can accurately describe the feeling one gets the moment an adventure is over in a single word or phrase. It’s like a turning point or a crossroads where a false known awaits you. There’s an intriguing element around the corner, yet a sorrow that exists over what you’ve left behind, and what you have to come back to. And whatever sorrow you’re feeling is partly overcome by a sense of accomplishment, taking part in something not many have attempted before you, something proudly displayed like a medal of honor. It leaves you in a state of ponder, encouraging you to continue your search, to understand the mysteries of life; eerily familiar to what was felt at the onset of your adventure.

Whatever that feeling was, I had a lot of time to figure it out during the 6-hour drive to Spokane.

But I guess if I had to put a label to it, it feels like you’re running out of the gate at your heart’s command… almost like you’re running out of the vein…