Mark Tumminello found the altered plastic bottle in his driveway when he got home from work and thought it looked like a pipe bomb.
Upon closer inspection, Tumminello, 29, saw that the bottle, filled with dirty-looking water, sported a label identifying it as "Iraqi Drinking Water" -- which depicts a starving child and has been used in the past by local peace activists to draw attention to appalling conditions in Iraq.
Attached to the plastic bottle, which the Colorado Springs man discovered last week, was a vulgar note assaulting him for flying his hand-stitched American flag in front of his house.
This is what it said:
"Greetings flag waving moron! Assuming you can read, it may come as a surprise to you that the government whose flag you have stuck up your (bleep) could not care less about you unless you own an oil company. War on terror; this country supports more state terrorism than any empire since Rome. It is about oil and empire building. Osama who? The ruling class does not care about that.
"So enjoy this fine swill, compliments of the good old United Snakes of America. Be a good neighbor and share some of this 'water' with your fellow patriotic [mindless] neighbors.
"Better yet, why not join the rest of the world and burn that mother(bleeping) flag; show some solidarity. I have found they do not burn that well unless doused with gasoline. Another option is to wipe your (bleep) with it. Enjoy!
"Who am I? Just another one of your neighbors who has become disgusted with all the ill informed, stupid flag waving going on in this country.
"Adios cavacho (sic)."
A moron out there
Tumminello was beyond incensed.
"At first I thought it was a group of people, but then I just thought it was a moron out there," he said.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Tumminello and his roommate have, like many others, displayed their flag daily from their front porch.
And their neighborhood, in the vicinity of the intersection of Yampa and Prospect streets in central Colorado Springs, has proven to be a block of flag-wavers. At least three of Tumminello's neighbors also fly their flags daily, and none reported receiving a similar package, though they said they were shocked by the venom of the note.
"I was appalled; I thought it was terrible considering what the nation is going through right now," said neighbor Ali Larson.
The note, Larson said, made her nervous, but not so much that she considered taking down her own flag.
Like her neighbors, Larson began flying the flag postSept. 11. "I'm shooting, personally, for a year," she said of the amount of time she plans to continue flying the flag every day. "I have other decorative flags, and every time I go to change it I can't bring myself to take it down."
The wrong house
The local Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Center, whose members used the "Iraqi Drinking Water" labels in a demonstration about a year ago, has been notified of the incident and its members are likewise dismayed.
"We would never condone anything like that," said Esther Kisamore, a member of the group that agitates for peace. "We would not use that kind of language, which is derogatory."
The "Iraqi Drinking Water" labels are sold on the Internet and the bottle left at Tumminello's house, Kisamore pointed out, could have been planted by anyone.
What bothered Tumminello the most, he said, was that the note-writer used his or her First Amendment right to free speech to attack the symbol of what gives us that very right to speak freely. And the package, Tumminello said, has simply strengthened his and his roommate's resolve. They plan to canvass the area in coming days, going house to house to alert their neighbors.
"They definitely picked the wrong house to put the bottle in front of," he said. "They picked about the most patriotic people they could pick."
Both Tumminello and his roommate are the sons of Vietnam War veterans. Like their neighbors, they started flying the flag after Sept. 11 and, since then, have felt regret that it took an act of terrorism to motivate them.
"We started feeling bad for not raising it before, and we have agreed it's a practice we will continue," Tumminello said. "I will raise the flag always."
Their neighbor Larson, meanwhile, hopes the matter marked an isolated incident.
"It didn't make me comfortable that someone was noticing our neighborhood in a bad way," she said. "I hope I don't get one [of the notes]."