Happy 4th of July — Where’s George?

A few different things coincided today. It was the first day of summer and my old mom’s friend’s birthday and, as she lives a few blocks away from the German-American Society, in Northeast Portland, we went to check upon the recently toppled statue of George Washington. Almost a month ago, I drove by and saw something peculiar. I pulled over and, lo and behold, GW had a mask over his verdigris face. I took a photo and continued driving down the Sandy Boulevard. The traffic was unusually low due to pandemic, and I kept wondering who put a mask over George’s face.

A few days later, after I posted the picture on Facebook and no one gave a damn, I forgot all about it. Therefore, when the day before yesterday my old mom’s friend called and said, “They pulled Goerge down,” at first I thought it was just her broken English. I had no idea what in the world was going on. I heard about some demonstrations; a few distant friends and relatives asked me, “How’s things in Portland?” And I was, like, “All Quiet on the Western Front (German: Im Westen nichts Neues, lit. ‘Nothing New In the West’)” — at least in my neck of the woods. Finally, I Googled it and, much to my surprise, found out that I was the last to know. Even Daily Mail wrote about it: “George Washington statue is covered in a burning American flag before being toppled by up to 40 Portland protesters in Oregon.”

So, the first thing my old mom’s friend Sadie and I did, after I picked her up — we drove down the Sandy Boulevard to see George, or whatever was left of him. But when we got there, he was…gone. Vanished. It was literally, like, Where’s George? Those of you, who tracked the trail of $1 bills across the US, will know what I’m talking about.

I pulled over and, after we crossed the street, the statue of G.W. was not only pulled down, but also taken away. Only its granite base was left turned upside down. It was like a dream, a weird American dream. Not even a month ago, George stood there with a cane in his right hand, his left hand on his hip, almost as tall as the Douglas firs behind him. And now he was no more. Only his name remained turned upside-down and, above him, also upside-down, PRESENTED TO THE CITY OF PORTLAND BY HENRY WALDO COE 1927. As I approached the base, on the top of it was hand-sprayed: WHITE FRAGILITY.

Just as I was taking the photos, I realized there was another person doing the same thing, an African-American. As our social distancing started getting less than six feet apart, I just blurted out, “I can’t believe this is happening… It’s crazy!”

With an incredibly peaceful, soothing voice, he said, “Yeah, it’s crazy… The sad thing about people who do this, I don’t think they even read their history… They just study what’s in their life, and that’s it… They don’t go back and study about these people and figure out who they are… I mean, I know he was a slave owner, and I don’t like slavery, but…”

“Well, you know the ancient Greeks had slaves…”

“Yeah, let’s just throw out all the Greek stuff…”

“And most of them were not even black…”

“Yeah, let’s just throw out all the writings of Greek philosophers…”

We had a good laugh, then he continued:

“There is something underlying going on here, though… And it’s kind of odd that we are here and we can look at this… The German-American society has been here only for a little while… And before that it was a Masonic Building…”

“Oh, I didn’t know…”

“Yeah, and they kind of closed it down… But it’s kind of related because George Washington was supposedly a very important free mason, and that’s probably why they had his statue here… Who knows? I don’t know… But I must say, though, I thought…you know…growing up in America…that all this garbage like we saw with George Floyd… I was thinking that by now, when I was younger, you know, when I was in my teens or whatever, it would have been gone by now…we wouldn’t have that stuff…

As he got a bit closer, I moved away and he laughed, “Social distancing! I keep forgetting… So, anyway… But the deal is — it’s still here! In the 21st century…there’s something wrong with that… And I think it shouldn’t be happening. But the reason it’s still here… I don’t know if it’s kind of related to what we’re looking at…if we know that this statue was kind of related with the Masonic lodge that was back there…” he pointed toward the building. “We have to realize that freemasonry has hierarchies in it… They have levels where there’s higher and lower level people…and the important thing to learn too, for Oregon, our beautiful state is that…um…back in the 20’s we had KKK marching down Broadway Street in large numbers, because of the mayor George Baker, and it was prompted by BW Griffin’s first silent film…”

“Wow,” it was all I could say. All I knew about George Washington was that he was the grandson of a Huguenot on his mother’s side, and that they were French Protestants…and that George was commander in chief during the American Revolutionary War, a founding father who served as the first president of the United States. I didn’t know he was a plantation owner and a slave-holder, too…

“Anyway, what that’s about,” he continued, “the cofounder of KKK, the guy named Albert Pike… His statue got overthrown in Washington DC the other night… It was 11 feet tall, and it was there since 1901… Albert Pike was the founder of the Scottish Rite branch of the Free Masons and the writer of their key book, Morals and Dogma… It’s a thick book, the size of a bible… It’s basically the book of ritual, witchcraft, symbolism or whatever… And so that would fit with what was in that building before the German-American Society… What I’m trying to say is we can take these symbols away, but the core problem remains — freemasonry is still alive today…I found it at my work place and I found that there was a glass ceiling and I couldn’t figure it out… So one day I went to a funeral… and it was a lodge…lo and behold… I was late and there was a signing sheet, and not only that people signed in that came in before me, they also put their rank down, and I realized, OMG, my boss…”

“They put what?”

“Their rank in the lodge, their hierarchy…then I realized my boss and the manager of the department were all them, and that’s where the glass ceiling is… No matter how good you are, you can’t make it above that unless you’re one of them…”

“Wow…”

“And they’re sexists…”

“They didn’t ask you to become a part of them?”

“No! Because I’m…black…”

“Really?”

“They don’t ask blacks…”

“Really?” I was like a parrot.

“No, that’s the problem! The police chiefs, the judges, the doctors, lawyers…”

“So Freemasons have no black people?”

“Well, they do… There’s a lodge in north Portland that’s all black, but…there’s a weirdness about it… I looked into that a little bit, and I think there’s a white guy at the top…so, there is a black lodge but they’re subservient… They run this country…”

“Well, I heard that back home — I’m from ex-Yugoslavia…”

“Yeah…”

“I heard that back home, if you want to get a job, you need to be a member of a party — any party!”

“Have you read Trotsky?”

“No, I read Solzhenitsyn…”

“Oh, Solzhenitsyn… He’s a good guy,” he made it sound as if compared to T., S. was a nice little boy. “But Leon Trotsky wrote autobiography in the 20's before they killed him in Mexico, and it’s called My life… And in there, if you look down, who he gives his credit to? He says, I give credit to my membership in the lodge,” he whispered, “So the lodge is supernatural… It’s not just United States — it’s the world! It’s what the president is submitting to…everybody above…in all countries… your country probably has somebody above, and they operate in secrecy… They run the world! So…until that is taken care of…we’re not going to have racial justice…’cause it’s so ingrained…it’s so entrenched… And those 3 or 4 policemen that did George Floyd, you know, their police union is called Fraternal Order of Police… If you go to their website, they are connected to all kinds of lodges, the national Grand lodge, too…”

I looked at Sadie. She couldn’t understand the word of what he was saying. And he kept going on and on. Like a smooth relaxation tape: his voice reminded me of Hendrix a little. He also looked like an older version of him, wearing thick glasses, his front tooth missing. He was so kind and knowledgeable; I felt like there was so much going on, and I’d always be the last to know.

It was time to move on. Sadie needed to go shopping. It was her birthday, too. Summer solstice. It sounded almost like somersaults. We parted with the guy. We smiled behind our masks and waved goodbye. While crossing the street, I realized I didn’t even know his name. We met at the corner of 57th and Sandy, where George used to stand, cast in bronze, rain or shine.

Sadie was sad. “It’s how we knew we were close to home…” We was her husband and her going for a walk, but the pandemic has stopped that, too. Jimmy was kept safe in a nursing home. No visitors allowed, and he couldn’t go anywhere. He was 84 and his wife still missed him. Now she was alone, too. In her apartment. One needed to get out every once in a while. Away from the headlines and breaking news.

We went to Fred Meyer’s, and I bought her an orchid. For her birthday. It took great effort to convince her and, of course, I bought the cheapest one, $12.99. There was one for $59.99, and it was hard to believe somebody could afford it. It was also hard to believe many things, and now George was gone, too.

I remembered the old Where’s George? game. There was even WheresGeorge.com, an easy and free website that tracks the natural geographic circulation of American paper money. Users enter the serial number from a bill into the website to see where it has been or start the record tracking its journey. I once held it in my hands, a tattered $1 bill, and it felt like a small victory of sorts, as if I were a part of something bigger. And it was, as big as George. Monumental. 20 feet tall. Until it was toppled, his back scourged, hand sprayed in red, as if scratched by a cat-o-nine-tales, a humiliating constellation of scars. The next day George disappeared, as if escaped by cover of night, hopefully securing a precious pocket of freedom at an undisclosed location somewhere.

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A medical/legal interpreter, musician, author, world traveler… http://fjnanic.wordpress.com

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Faruk J. Nanic

Faruk J. Nanic

A medical/legal interpreter, musician, author, world traveler… http://fjnanic.wordpress.com

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