Thomas (Ski) Demski pointed to an old ambulance covered with bumper stickers and said, "There's a flag in there the size of a football field."
Inside a similarly decorated hearse is another flag--not quite as large as the 160-by-300-foot field-size flag, but impressive nonetheless. They are part of Demski's flag collection, some of which he displays outside his home in Long Beach.
It is hard to miss Demski's place. It is the red, white and blue building at Lime Avenue and Fourth Street. And it is hard to miss his flagpole.
It is 132 feet high.
That is tall, Demski acknowledged, but not tall enough.
This week, Demski went before the City Council with an old request: Permission to erect a 300-foot flagpole outside his home.
"What do you say?" Demski asked the council.
Other than a few chuckles, the council members did not say much. Instead, they referred the matter to the Planning Commission.
"Nobody is against the flag. That's why it's so difficult. We all appreciate it. We all enjoy it. Many of us are proud to have a flag no matter how big it is. What's the necessity of having it 300 feet high?" asked Councilman Evan Anderson Braude after the council meeting.
The last time Demski went before the council, the officials not only denied his request but changed city law to restrict the height of new flagpoles. This time, Demski hopes the city will agree with him that as a patriotic tribute to Long Beach, a large flag should be unfurled by next year--when the city celebrates its 100th birthday.
And Tuesday, there were signs that some council members are sympathetic. Vice Mayor Edd Tuttle said he would find a place for the flag in a park in his district. Council member Wallace Edgerton offered to do the same.
Braude, who represents the district in which Demski lives, said his colleagues take the issue lightly because Demski is "sort of an eccentric character. That's the way he is."
A Long Beach resident since 1958, Demski, 57, lives in a converted four-plex. The bottom floor is dedicated to his business, a mail-order bumper sticker shop where a few messy parrots make their home. The upstairs is divided into two parts: he lives on one side and the rest of his 16 parrots live in the other.
His bird family includes a dove that laughs after Demski whispers to it. (How does he make it laugh? "I tell him a good joke.") The parrots are colorful and loud; "Bark like a dog," one of them continually orders. And then there is the largest one: a beautiful blue macaw named Peppy--"my Polish Eagle."
Demski's passions are his parrots and his flags. He said he became interested in large American flags in 1980.
"I was going up the freeway and saw one and thought, wouldn't that be nice for my place," Demski said.
The city's Planning Department did not think so. It tried to block the 132-foot pole. Demski fought it all the way to the City Council, and won.
Higher Pole Denied
Two years later, he decided to spend $80,000 to put up a 300-foot-high pole. He lost that battle. Some people simply did not want a 30-story-high flagpole in the neighborhood.
At the time, many businesses--especially service stations--were erecting high poles and using them to attract customers, Planning Director Robert J. Paternoster said.
As a result, the council created an ordinance limiting poles to 25 feet in commercial areas, 60 feet in high-rise commercial districts and up to a neighborhood's height limit in residential areas. In Demski's neighborhood, that limit would be 35 feet for new poles, Paternoster said.
To get the ordinance changed, Demski--like any other resident--would have to pay a $1,300 application fee, Paternoster said. His next step would be to convince the Long Beach Planning Commission--which Demski concedes will not be easy.
Message on T-Shirt
A one-time City Council candidate, Demski showed up at the council meeting Tuesday wearing a bright yellow T-shirt that read in part: "Long Beach Centennial '88 . . . Demski for City Council, for President, for Santa Claus, for Mayor?"
Outside his home, Demski often holds flag-raising ceremonies for holidays ranging from Veterans' Day to St. Patrick's Day to Yom Kippur. "On holidays, I'll fly the bigger ones," he said.
"People enjoy it," said Demski, who once said: "I'd like to see this town get back to being an all-American town."
Braude said he does not object to the 132-foot pole already there. "But the question is," the councilman continued, "whether that's the proper place for a larger (300-foot) pole."