I've gotta make a stand, But I am just a man.
Tom Gieryic hasn't gotten a lot of work done at his automotive repair shop lately.
Since an article about an Albany Code Enforcement officer ticketing Gieryic for having an American flag in the right-of-way in front of his Dawson Road business appeared in the March 6 Albany Herald, the affable Gieryic has been busy talking to supportive -- and angry -- local citizens as well as meeting media requests from all over the country.
Just this past Wednesday, the Fox television network sent a car to pick him up and drive him to Tallahassee, Fla., to appear live on the "Fox and Friends" morning show that originates from New York. The night before he'd been up late talking on the radical freedomfighterradio.com podcast.
"I didn't really realize how radical they were until I checked out some of the other stuff they were talking about," Gieryic says with a sheepish grin. "It didn't take too long for me to pull the plug on that one."
Gieryic had no idea The Herald article would turn him into something of a celebrity, and some eight days after the newspaper article ran, he was answering a second wave of nonstop phone calls from across the country, these spurred by his "Fox and Friends" appearance.
"I got more than 150 calls the day that the story was first in the paper," Gieryic said. "Of course, I also had people coming by here to meet me, to shake my hand and some even offered to contribute money to pay for any fine I might get. The next day I got around 75 calls, the next 50 and the next 25.
"People were still coming by and I was getting a few calls when I did that Fox show, and now the calls have started coming in from all over the country. I've had lawyers from 15 different states call and say they'll represent me free of charge if there is any kind of court hearing, and a gentleman from Arizona called the day the article ran and said he'd pay any fines no matter what the cost."
Gieryic shakes his head.
"It's just been unreal, like nothing I've ever seen," he said.
Just when Gieryic and the crew at his auto repair shop think things can't get any wilder, they're proved wrong. They put up a "Honk for the Flag" message on the business's marquee but had to take it down when horns blared at them all day. Some other business owners delivered four flagpoles to Gieryic, and his facebook page -- gieryicsauto1 -- is being overrun.
The show of support has touched Gieryic beyond words, but he is most overwhelmed by a gesture from Riley Stevens, a Special Forces soldier stationed at Fort Bragg.
"He told me he had a flag his company flew during one of his tours in Afghanistan," Gieryic said. "He said he even put that flag under his armor when they went out on patrol. Now he says he wants to send it to me. Man, that's just unbelievable."
Gieryic holds up his right arm, showing the gooseflesh that sprang up as he recounted Stevens's gesture.
With all the good that has come from his stand, Gieryic says there has been one negative.
"I think one squawker hinted that I might have talked with you for that story to somehow try and help my business," he said. "Nothing could be further from the truth. I just feel very strongly about this country's flag. It's more than a symbol to me."
Many who have approached Gieryic have suggested he speak out against city officials, maybe lead some type of protest. That's not something he's interested in doing.
"I want the people to know I'm not mad at the city, I'm not mad at the Code officer and I'm not mad at our City Commission," he said. "The only reason I came to you with this is that I wanted to point out that there's a problem in our code when it comes to regulating the American flag.
"This is not about me, and it will never be about me. I just love this country and I love that flag. The only thing I'd like to see come of this is more people proudly flying the flag rather than just bringing it out on Flag Day or Memorial Day. We should be proudly flying our flags every day."
In a country awash in cynicism, where any hint at celebrity is cause for knee-jerk backlash, it's no surprise that there are those who doubt Gieryic's motives. If you're one of them, shame on you. The man will be the first to tell you he's no hero. But with crooked politicians, money-hungry athletes and weirdo celebrities proving to have feet of clay, perhaps we should take another look at the definition.
We could do a lot worse than Tom Gieryic.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcheralbanyherald.com.