Several years ago, as the Iraq War began to really go south, I saw a metaphor.
I did not conceive a metaphor. I actually saw one, in 3D, floating through the sky.
My band, the Flat Possum Boys, had played at a hot air balloon festival in Glenmoore, PA. Glenmoore is beautiful, rolling hills and farms, but it is quickly being eaten alive by development, sprawl, and McMansions. The festival was great: nothing but families with young kids, good food, and of course hot air balloons. Most were the standard “upside down teardrop” models, rising from the earth like bubbles when water begins to boil. There were also several more artistic balloons. One was shaped like the Patriot space shuttle; most surreal was a giant barn, with animals peeping out the windows.
Watching so many different balloons floating silently across the flawless blue sky was an odd experience. When looking at the ordinary balloons, I felt like everyone should be wearing derbies, hoop skirts, and beards, as though it was the 1880s. When I looked at the floating barn, I felt like I had stepped into some weird psychedelic cartoon like Fritz the Cat or Yellow Submarine.
The band after us, Animus, was setting up. They were described in the program as “Middle Eastern fusion.” Traditional sounds and instruments over western beats. I was about to tune out on the music, when I saw it looming over the trees. The metaphor.
A massive ballon made to look like an American flag was nearly filled and about to rise. This was one of the more creative balloons: the designers had foregone the teardrop shape in favor of a rectangular replica of Old Glory.
The flag filled with hot air and began slowly rising, drifting over the corral where Animus was beginning their set. But as the strains of Arabic melodies filled the air, the American flag balloon began having trouble.
It was, in fact, sinking rapidly.
They had clearly lifted off too early, without enough hot air to keep things floating along. And instead of doing anything to change course, the guys piloting the balloon just stood there in the gondola, waving to the crowd below as if nothing was amiss, until they were about 10 feet from crashing into a hillside. Then one of the pilots began fanning the flames, filling the balloon with more hot air. Just when I thought the America balloon was about to crash, they narrowly missed the hill, and began to rise again, drifting away leaving nothing but Arabic Animus in their wake.
It was the Iraq War in a nutshell. True story.