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Up in Arms



I decided to add a bird to my ongoing design for a family heraldry or, as you might call it, a family coat of arms. You know, one of those fancy things that aristocrats and others with the Royal Society of Heraldic Armory registry fee (which happens to be $99.95) have placed on soup tureens, napkins, flags, throw pillows and fireplaces.

Naturally, when birds are mentioned, especially in a heraldic context, the first thing that comes to mind is the awesome eagle. I myself was partial to the boldly sketched Adlerflugel mit Schwerthand, aka eagle's wing with the sword hand, purported arms of the Duke of Calabria. However, not wishing to seem vainglorious (a charge that often attaches itself to those who involve themselves in family heraldry), I opted instead for the mockingbird, sable and beak opened. The mockingbird is the James Cagney of birds, a tormentor of cats and crows many times its size, and is seen far more often on the battlefields of New Orleans.

This addition of a mockingbird completes a quartet of animals which borders the family crest. At bottom, argent, on a mount issuing from the base vert, a greyhound passant proper. (Heraldists talk like this constantly; get used to it.) I love greyhounds because (a) I once owned one, (b) I once made good money betting on one, and (c) I see them as a role model for conflict conduct, i.e. run away very fast.

On the dextant side, a thoroughbred horse rampant, brindled sable, with the words "Dum Spiro Spero" inscribed on its hindquarters. This roughly translates "While I breathe, I hope" and signifies my attitude toward thoroughbreds.

On the sinister side, I had toyed with the idea of an opinicus, a creature with the body and forelegs of a lion; the head, neck and wings of an eagle; and the tail of a camel. But I settled on a cock, as many do. You can't go wrong with those.

In the middle of all this is the famous "bend sinister," the traditional heraldic mark of bastardy. This commemorates a distant ancestor named Manfredi, who reputedly enjoyed a long dalliance (and even longer repentance) with a scullery maid named Ida. On the dexter side, a silver shield, quarterly.

In the upper left of the shield, a spider, in honor of boyhood physique and resultant nickname. The opposite features a chess pawn astride the scrolled word "Gambit," just in case flattery can get you somewhere.

The bottom quarters of the shield are mottoes. The one in Quarter Three proclaims, "Lead On" and speaks directly to my desire to be involved in communal affairs. Quarter Four features a demi-bear rampant, sable, muzzled and holding aloft a scroll which says, "Fer et prefer," Latin for "Bear and forbear." I'm not sure what it means, but I am sure that any decent coat of arms has Latin on it somewhere.

I have gone into all this detail to illustrate that I have the experience and skills necessary to help out in the following project. However faintly, my state calls, and this is my moment!

Not so long ago, the North American Vexillological Association (experts on flags) assigned a failing grade to the flag of Baton Rouge. The flag features a shield with a stylized castle representing Spain, a fleur de lis representing France and the Union Jack representing England, topped off by the city name written in a large cursive script.

Don't get me wrong. I have no excess of love for Baton Rouge, a burg of maximum pretension and minimum culture. But this is the capital of Louisiana, and the vexillologists assigned it 80th place among city flags, behind such bourgeois backwaters as Dallas and Seattle. And in the pledge to the state flag, which I recite daily, it reads, "A state, under God, united in purpose and ideals, confident that justice shall prevail for all of those abiding here." In the interest of justice for my fellow Louisianians, I submit the following alterations.

First, lose the stylized castle, which looks like Rapunzel's home, and the fleur de lis, which better suits New Orleans and the Saints. Ditto the Union Jack, which simply looks like a mistake. And definitely lose the city name, which is a pet peeve of those peevish vexillologists.

Substitute a design beginning with a crest featuring a nutria passant ermine upon a Louisiana outlined proper, with portions of the "toe" erased, symbolizing coastal erosion.

Beneath the crest, a quarterly silver shield. In the upper quadrant, a voting machine vert with the inscription "Electa Semper Juste," which translates, "The elected are always right." In the dexter quadrant, a golden serpent swallowing its tail. This is an ancient symbol for eternity and since the snake is a modern symbol for crookedness, the combining of meanings equals eternal crookedness. The bottom quadrants are a crimson shillelagh signifying "red stick" and a Mike the Tiger guardant.

All supported by a pair of facing squirrels sejant and the Latin motto "Mens Sano," which means "a healthy mind." Sewn on a purple-and-gold banner, what vexillologist could resist?

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