Q: I’m enjoying a nice beach vacation with my in-laws on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. The house we rented is at the end of a short waterway that connects to the bay. The beach house just across from us is flying a Texas flag, along with the U.S. of A. flag, and one other flag that my New Jersey–born wife tells me is the flag of New Jersey. However, the Texas flag is flying upside down. We don’t know these folks, and I generally like to keep to myself, but as a lifelong Texan, what’s my duty here? Kindly point it out to the strangers? Sneak over in the wee hours and fix it for them? Or just let it go?
John Hancock, Dallas (by way of Jasper)
A: Good eye, John Hancock! And thanks for taking time away from your family vacay in the so-called Garden State to execute your patriotic duty by alerting the Texanist to this flagrant snafu involving the flying of Texas’s revered standard.
Thanks for reading Texas Monthly
Any Texan worth his or her salt knows from a careful reading of the Texas Government Code’s Section 3100.002—which is itself a subset of Chapter 3100 (STATE FLAG), which is itself a subset of Subtitle A (STATE SYMBOLS AND HONORS), which falls beneath Title 11 (STATE SYMBOLS AND HONORS; PRESERVATION)—that the state flag of Texas is comprised of “one blue vertical stripe that has a width equal to one-third the length of the flag; two equal horizontal stripes, the upper stripe white, the lower stripe red, each having a length equal to two-thirds the length of the flag; and one white, regular five-pointed star located in the center of the blue stripe; oriented so that one point faces upward.”
The same portion of the Government Code—which, in case you forgot, can be found within Title 11, Subtitle A, Chapter 3100, Section 3100.02—dictates that the flag should always be flown right side up, which is to say white stripe on top, except—and this is important—as a “signal of dire distress in an instance of extreme danger to life or property.” Which is why the Texanist is a little nervous about the fact that he let a week go by before he got around to looking at your missive. (He was, by the way, busy answering a letter about Texas lakes that the so-called powers that be thought should be answered immediately because of the “seasonal” nature of the topic.)
Still, on the off chance that your Atlantic coast vacation is an extended one and you are still up there—or on the equally off chance that you ever witness such a situation again—the Texanist will explain exactly what you should do when you spot a discombobulated Texas flag.
Of the three options you were considering when you wrote—bring it to the neighbors’ attention, sneak over there and fix it yourself, or just let it go—the Texanist sure hopes that, having not heard back from the Texanist in a reasonable amount of time, you finally threw up your hands, said, “Aw, to hell with that no-account,” and took it upon yourself to exercise option number one. Because your New Jersey beach town neighbor, as odd as it may seem, might well be a fellow Texan signaling a situation of dire distress and in urgent need of your assistance.
They might be in all sorts of trouble. What if their beach house has been shanghaied by the likes of Snooki, the “Situation,” JWoww, and the rest of the Jersey Shore cast? Or what if former governor Chris Christie has commandeered their stretch of beach? Perhaps a well-meaning neighbor brought over some genuine New Jersey–style barbecued brisket, and that upside-down flag is signaling culinary distress. Or maybe they’re just out of Mexican martini fixings. Who knows?
Thankfully, chances are that your neighbor is not in distress and has simply bolloxed up the hoisting of the flag. They wouldn’t be the first. One afternoon back in 2012, the Texanist was whiling away an afternoon gazing out his office window, which is in the heart of downtown Austin, when he suddenly noticed that the Texas flag flying atop the Ernest O. Thompson State Office Building was upside down. Duly alarmed, the Texanist, not having the phone number to the Ernest O. Thompson State Office Building handy but knowing that the building sits next door to the Governor’s Mansion, got on the horn to the governor immediately. Or he may have tweeted about it—he really can’t remember. Either way, the flag was righted shortly thereafter without incident and the Texanist went home and, after his usual bedtime tonics, slept soundly knowing that he had done a deed that needed doing.
All of this is to say you shouldn’t think of the person flying that upside-down Lone Star in New Jersey as a stranger. This person, as the Texanist mentioned, is, likely as not, just a fellow Texan in need of a neighborly nudge encouraging them to rectify the bungled-up banner. Though they may also be—though one hopes they aren’t—a fellow Texan in need of actual assistance. Whatever the case, if he or she is indeed a fellow Texan, the Texanist trusts that they’d help you out were the boot on the other foot.
The Texanist sure hopes everything worked out all right. Please report back and let him know, though. He’s not going to sleep well until you do. Even with extra tonics.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.
A version of this is published in the December 2019 issue.