Friday, August 3, 2012

C'mon, America! Let's all sing the national anthem!

This will surprise loony right wingers who think they hold a monopoly on patriotism, but I get choked up hearing the national anthem.

Yes, even gay marriage supporting, Obama loving, universal health care backing, tree hugging, pot legalizing, tolerance preaching 99 percenters like me can still love America just as much as you do.

So it got to me yesterday watching the U.S. women’s rowing team on the podium singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” with all the drive and joy that had earned them their gold medals.

I’d never seen any of these women before. Heck, the last time I saw anyone doing any rowing it was the studly Winklevii twins who crewed on the river while Mark Zuckerberg was busy screwing them out of a fortune in “The Social Network.”

Chances are I’ll never see any of these women again for the rest of my life. It’s a pity because I fell in love with them all, even though I suspect today at least one or two of them would if they could if be enthusiastic participants in today’s Chick-fil-A gay kiss-in protests.

There’s been stories about some crabby athletes unhappy they were unable to publicize their commercial sponsors during the games.

It was clear to me these women were proud to be sponsored by the only one that matters: The United States of America.

Tears were rolling down their dimpled cheeks. They were busting with pride and were singing the anthem for all it was worth.

I wish they’d mic all these winners. It would be instructive.

Because when you see some of these appealing athletes singing the national anthem it gives the wrong impression that because they look good, they must sound good.

This is unlikely. In fact, they probably sound a lot like my late father, who in my mind is to the national anthem what Tony Bennett is to “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

He is its signature vocalist.

I say this because I was next to him for over 30 years at hundreds of sporting events where he was the only anthem-singing person in the stadium besides the professional doing it over the public address system.

And what a voice.

It carried great distances. I always imagined birds in the African savannah scattering in alarm from their cypress trees as he began the first few notes.

I remember all the beer vendors turning in unison to our section high up in Three Rivers Stadium, fearful, I think, that one of their colleagues had spilled three or four trays of empty aluminum cans down the concrete stairs.

He’d start off the tune about five seconds behind the professional and then, realizing his pacing error, would accelerate so he’d be about five seconds ahead.

This often confused the professional so he or she would race ahead of my father and the national anthem became a sort of off-key “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” duet where the singers are never in sync.

As a kid, of course, I was horrified by this. No one else in the stadium was singing at all. In fact, rather than sing, many of the Steeler fans turned to stare gape-jawed at us.

This was probably 30 years before “American Idol” and other reality shows that celebrate talentless louts. It’s a pity his poor timing wasn’t exclusive to “The Star- Spangled Banner.”

He could have been the William Hung of the 1970s.

I remember one time I said, gee, Dad, it embarrasses me when you sing the national anthem.

“Son,” he said, “it embarrasses me when you don’t.”

I was thinking of the old man last week when I took our 11 year old to a matinee Pirate game. We got some grub and settled in for a great afternoon basking in America’s pastime.

And when time came to sing the national anthem, I bolted out of my seat, stood ramrod straight, hat over my heart and, as I always do, just gave it hell.

The whole time I noticed out of the corner of my eye Josie’s increasing discomfort. I was ready for her when the song was over.

What, I asked, does my singing embarrass you? Is my voice too unrefined? Would you rather I just mumbled?

“That’s not it, Dad,” she said.

When I stood up, I’d put my foot on her hot dog.

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