LONG BEACH — On Tuesday morning, Thomas (Ski) Demski will honor his flag. In the afternoon, he is going to court to defend it.
At 11 a.m. hundreds of children, veterans and others are expected to join Demski at his place for a ceremony commemorating Flag Day. The U.S. Coast Guard will be there. So will flamboyant, conservative television host Wally George.
The highlight of the ceremony will be the unfurling of Demski's 47-by-82-foot American flag.
"That's the flag that got busted for disturbing the peace," he says.
A few hours later, Demski is expected in Long Beach Municipal Court, where he plans to plead not guilty to violating the city's noise ordinance by flying a flapping flag.
Demski doesn't object to the timing. As a matter of fact, he wants it that way.
His court appearance was originally scheduled June 2, but Demski said he requested the change to ensure that it would not stop his Flag Day ceremony. Demski said he did not seek the court date on Flag Day to gain more publicity.
'Fooling Around With the Flag'
"Believe me, I'm not after that. It gets its own publicity when they start fooling around with the flag," Demski said.
"I don't think it's right for them to bring charges against me for the flag," said Demski, who is locally well-known for his collection of large flags, exotic parrots and 132-foot flagpole.
Demski's neighbors say his flags make too much noise on windy nights. Health department officials measured the noise and agreed.
But Demski says he can't take down a flag on a windy night because it will tear, and he has refused the city's order to take down the flags by 10 each night. Demski, owner of a bumper-sticker business, keeps at least one American flag raised at all times outside his home and business at 4th Street and Lime Avenue.
"Palm trees make noise too," he said. "President Reagan didn't have to go to Russia to talk about human rights. He could have come to Long Beach."
In his quest to keep the American flag flying in his front yard, Demski placed ads in a local paper and got volunteers to collect signatures on a petition. He had collected about 1,500 signatures by late last week. He also rubbed elbows with city bigwigs at Mayor Ernie Kell's victory party last Tuesday. It got him about 20 signatures--but not the mayor's.
"It's an issue of noise, not the flag," Kell said.
But Demski has found many allies. Among them is Jim Alexander, a retired U.S. Coast Guard commander who says he is helping Demski because "having that flag is a good thing for Long Beach."
"Children are getting an exposure that is hard to find these days (with Demski's ceremonies)," Alexander said. "Patriotism is dying. Let's be forthright and honest. And anybody who is out do to something about it, I'm all for helping him."
City Councilman Evan Anderson Braude, who represents Demski's district, said the feisty businessman has to compromise with his neighbors because "people have a right to privacy and quietness."
Braude said he likes Demski, whom he called an "interesting character," but added that "he's difficult to deal with because he wants what he wants when he wants it." Demski says all he cares about is the flag.
Demski says he is not particularly fond of Wally George, one of the masters of ceremony for the Flag Day event. George "gets way out there" with his commentary, Demski acknowledges. "But he has a flag behind him (in the show's Hot Seat). And he's for that flag."