LA HABRA, Calif.-Remember that old saying: ``Let's run it up the flagpole and see who salutes!''? That's going to be a little difficult for the owner of a Big O Tires outlet in La Habra.
You see, he has no flagpoles there. Not anymore.
Touchy subject. One that's kind of left Mike Altman feeling like his patriotism got cut down to size-three feet, to be exact.
But please, no cracks about him being a ``Yankee Doodle Dandy.'' Here in America, per-haps no other symbol evokes such strong feelings as ``Old Glory.''
It all began a year ago, when Mr. Altman put up 16 flagpoles, each 18 feet high, on July 4. A fitting gesture to celebrate the observance of our nation's independence, thought the 34-year-old owner, admitting to an affinity for flags that carries through at home, where the patriotic pennants are always on sentry duty.
Why raise the flags in the first place? ``Because that's what I do at my stores,'' replied the indignant dealer. He also operates a Big O outlet in Anaheim, Calif.
Within 24 hours of erecting the poles, he was notified by La Habra that they had to come down.
``The mayor said he wanted them down, and he's willing to spend the taxpayers' money to fight to have them pulled down because he felt they were unsafe,'' explained Mr. Altman.
It also happens the city's municipal codes have height requirements for things such as flagpoles.
``And the city said the flags weren't `aesthetically pleasing' to the eye, and didn't like them being up there,'' he added.
Mr. Altman tried for a time to ``fight city hall.'' When he refused to shout ``timber-r-r,'' last December the city gave him 90 days to remove the flags and poles, then some additional time before finally threatening to haul him into court.
Realizing he ``just couldn't afford the $10,000 to fight them-that's what it would have cost in fees-and the city was willing to go all the way,'' he cried ``uncle.'' (His uncle, by the way, is a brigadier general, his dad was a Marine, and Mr. Altman served in the Navy.)
This past July 3, as most Americans were preparing for the next day's picnics and fireworks displays, he felled the flagpoles-cut them down to stumps, three feet tall, then capped them for safety reasons. He also has agreed to plant grass to comply with La Habra landscaping rules.
But, yeah, he's still pretty sore about the whole ordeal.
``The only reason they have a problem is `aesthetics,' and that's stupid,'' he groused.
``So, aesthetically they're not pleasing to the eye to certain individuals. I can't help them, nor do I care to. But I can't afford the legal part of it.''
Nor did the corporate office of Big O Tires Inc. apparently wish to get entangled in the matter.
When the city's district attorney threatened to sue the corporation, along with Mr. Altman, the dealer said the corporation ``pressured'' him into pulling the poles down.
Grudgingly, he complied.
On the other hand, he said there are no such problems at his Anaheim store, where he flies 22 flags. ``Anaheim likes them.''
And many of his La Habra store customers did, as well. ``They loved them-the response was overwhelmingly in favor of the flags.
``But I told the people, basically, if you can supply me the money (to go to court), I'll leave them up,'' he said. ``But nobody could. When it comes down to the money, everybody backs off.''
Evidently, not everyone liked his display of patriotism, either.
Would you believe, he said, ``I even got some death threats and the whole bit. There's some real winners out there.''