I probably said what needed to be said best a couple of years ago, but you can’t blog as long as I have and not let this day pass without comment. I’ve opted to a couple of times in the past, thinking that talking about it would give the perpetrators undeserved publicity. Most of the time, though, I didn’t think of some coward sitting in a cave in Afghanistan or Pakistan. I thought about 3000 people who were murdered for the crime of showing up for work, something I’ve done most weekday mornings for the bulk of my adult life.
Since the towers fell, people have wanted to point fingers. Bin Laden wasn’t enough, since he was basically a shadowy figure hiding in a cave. All manner of conspiracy theory emerged, from the government faking it to the Bush Administration ignoring warnings so they could justify a war in Iraq. The ones alleging that the towers were detonated I find not only unbelievable in the extreme, but a massive slap in the face to anyone who died in those attacks. Still, it’s only natural that, when something catastrophic happens, fear sells. While the official version of events is obviously sanitized for various reasons, both legitimate and, to be frank, stupid, conspiracy theories only serve the purposes of those who destroyed the towers, damaged the Pentagon, and met a premature end in Pennsylvania. The reason the towers were attacked was to incite terror. It’s the first six letters in “terrorism.”
The new World Trade Center is almost finished. And about time, too. That gaping wound in lower Manhattan has been there for too long. It’s time we got on with life. We will forever argue over the best way to defend ourselves. But I’m going to reiterate something I said years ago after the Twin Towers first fell. The world did not really change. It’s always been a dark, scary place where people do horrible things to each other. We just had a brutal reminder of that. That said, I still prefer today over years past, when the world really was darker, even if we were a bit oblivious to it.
Decades ago, some of us had to use separate water fountains and couldn’t sit at the lunch counter. Over a century ago, owning a human being for personal use was considered the norm, not the crime it is these days even where it’s tolerated. Things we used to accept would kill us before old age are now rare. Polio is almost unknown. Small pox is, except for lab samples, extinct, and the plague, which once killed a third of a continent, doesn’t even rate a headline on a slow news day. That last usually involves a Z Pack and bed rest.
Sure, there are problems. The wealthy refuse to practice capitalism, preferring feudalism instead. (I’m looking at you, JP Morgan-Chase.) The government is watching our every move, only to discover we’ve been flipping them the bird with no plans to stop. Arab Spring is a bloody mess. More often than not, many of us are afraid of what some burned-out ex-DJ or sportscaster tells us is the boogey man. 95% of the time, they’re making it up to sell gold or foot powder. Mercifully, one of the left’s more annoying practitioners had to crawl back to ESPN for a job when he realized liberals don’t really want their own Rush Limbaugh (and a growing number of conservatives kinda want theirs to go away, too.)
Don’t let the fear mongers tell you what you’re afraid of. If you do, then the terrorists really have won.
11 years already?
The new World Trade Center will open next year. Next time I’m in New York, I’m having a drink at Windows on the World.
I’ve told the story of where I was and how I reacted over and over again. I think we can safely call 2001-2011 America’s Lost Decade.
The first time I saw Ground Zero, I was shocked. There was this construction zone in the middle of Manhattan. My first thought was “My God, that must have been HUGE!” The reality hit home finally. This wasn’t an iconic image splashed across our TV screens. This was an open wound in the middle of a city where I happened to be. And we all felt it when it happened.
The Memorial is open now. As I said before, the new WTC will open next year. Something died in America on 9/11. I wonder if a completed and open Freedom Tower will bring back some of our mojo.
The most surreal day in my lifetime began around 7 AM, September 11, 2001. The morning had a mundane, but unpromising, start. My tire was flat. I did not have a spare. I called work, told them I’d be late, and called a tow truck. Great. There was $60 I didn’t really have to spend. An hour later, I was up at Anderson Automotive handing Bruce the keys and heading across the street for breakfast.
There was nothing to suggest September 11 would be anything but a gorgeous fall day where I’d be muttering all afternoon about being stuck inside at BigHugeCo. In fact, while sitting at the Servatti Pastry, I began contemplating what sort of horrific problems I could come up with to get me a day off. I thought better of it. We were having a huge departmental meeting with our CIO, and it would be bad enough I’d miss part of it already. I headed back across the street, handed Bruce my credit card, and took my keys. On the battered 19-inch Panasonic in the lobby, one of the Twin Towers was smoking, which left us scratching our heads. What the hell?
Well, that was going to make water cooler talk interesting. “Moron Buzzes World Trade Center, Splatters Self All Over North Tower.” We speculated on the luck of the drunk, how they could have gotten past the safeguards that kept air traffic out of Manhattan. I waved, went home, and flipped on CNN. Might as well just take half the day off and go in after lunch.
I tuned in just in time to see the second plane hit. Ladies and gentlemen, things just got really, really bad. This wasn’t some jackass in a small plane buzzing skyscrapers and getting exactly what he deserved for his stupidity. This was intentional. This was murder broadcast live on national television.
From that point on, I was fixed on the news. I switched between CNN and Fox trying to get as much news as I could. I remembered just over a decade ago when NBC struggled to get information out of Moscow when a bunch of panicked hardliners tried to take over the Soviet Union. A different world.
The Fox commentators pointed out smoke rising in the general direction of the Captitol Building (which was still intact), wondering if it was the White House or somewhere else in DC. We found out later it was the Pentagon. Fox mentioned that Dick Cheney and Condaleeza Rice were at the White House, keeping the President up to date. I knew why the President was airborne and out of sight. Hell, they talked about that plan way back in the Cold War in all the hype leading up to The Day After. (Remember that oddball piece of fear mongering?) What I wanted to know was why the second man in line for the presidency and the head of national security were in the biggest target in the world right now. (They were in a bunker, stupid. I didn’t know that until later.)
I remember getting an IM from a friend of mine in New England asking what was happening? I turned around to see one of the towers collapse. My eyes stayed on the television the rest of the day, until four that afternoon before driving down the hill to my favorite watering hole. I needed a shot and a beer and got one. Really, needed a whole bottle of Jack Daniels.
Then it started. Some unscrupulous gas station owners jacked up the price of gas to $4 a gallon. Gas went for $1.75 a gallon at the time. Marathon and Ameristop closed the violators down almost before the news report ended.
At first, the tragedy seemed to bring America together. Someone dared to attack us on our own soil, and we were going to fight back. Hey, we just invented the Internet. We could do anything. But the attacks, the protracted wars, the financial messes, and the natural disasters all seemed to take the wind out of our sails.
Personally, I’ve refused to give into fear. I don’t look sideways at Muslims. Most Muslims I’ve met would like to see a few clerics’ heads on pikes. I never gave in to the political division that’s ripping this country apart. The whole liberal-conservative model bears little resemblance to reality.
But America has been kicked in the teeth over the last ten years. Hurricanes, terrorists, and the economy have many convinced we live in the last century of the Roman Empire. I’ve heard that talk before – in the late 1970’s. I didn’t buy it then, either. We face a lot of problems – We’re broke; our politicians are a bunch of fear-mongering, preening reprobates; and we don’t know where we’re going to get enough oil to keep the lights on and the cars running. But you know what I look forward to?
I’m looking forward to having a drink at Windows on the World at One World Trade Center.
And maybe looking in the general direction of the Taliban and raising a one-fingered salute to them.
Sure, it’s just a building, but it’ll finally put that horrible day to bed. We won’t forget it, but we’ll finally be able to move on.
- It was probably the most horrible day of my life so far. (I’ve had two that were more horrible to me personally since.) The most horrible day of most Americans’ lives.
- WEBN dropped the usual “It’s Friiiiidaaaaay!!!!” 5:00 kickoff to the weekend that week. Instead, the guy who does the opening yell just said, “Three thousand people gone. Why?” Instead of Metallica or AC/DC blasting the weekend in, they played Don Henley’s “New York Minute.” I had to pull the car over so I could cry. To this day, I can’t listen to that song without bursting into tears.
- I first went to Ground Zero in 2005. It was a Sunday morning, my first weekend in New York City ever, and I was meeting Charlie Stella for breakfast. I was supposed to have lunch with another friend. Charlie asked, “Where do you want to hang out?” I decided to face the music. “Drop me off at Ground Zero.” Charlie took me down the FDR and dropped me off. My jaw dropped. It was a neat hole in the ground in the heart of the business district, looking like a construction site not unlike the Queen City Square site was in the beginning. All I could do was stare into the hole and go, “My God!”
- In the years since then, I have refused to succumb to the urge to blame all Muslims for the destruction of the World Trade Center, part of the Pentagon, and a plane in my ancestral home in Pennsylvania. To me, that’s giving al Qaeda exactly what they want. I’ve had people quote (literally) chapter and verse from the Quran to justify their hatred of Muslims. To which I point out that many of the “point of a sword” verses explicitly exempt “people of the Book.” Who are those people? Jews. Christians. Druse. Based on that alone, Osama bin-Laden and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad are heretics.
- Even nine years later, a sky with no planes, particularly since I lived up the hill from Lunken Airport, still gives me chills. I was born in the 1960’s. My sky always had planes in it.
- We’re still here. The only thing that changed was that most people realized the world is a scary, dangerous place. I figured that one out when Ronald Reagan decided to play nuclear chicken with three decrepit Bolsheviks. For 11 years, I worked across the street from the Federal Building, next door to the Federal Courthouse, and two blocks up from the Federal Reserve Bank. I generally assumed if the Very Bad Thing happened to me, I wouldn’t be around long enough to know about it.
- Anyone who was over the age of twelve in 1990 knows what a high the fall of the Berlin Wall was, especially if you lived in Germany. (“Wait! I can drive to Berlin without a cavity search? Greta, gas up the Benz! Road trip!”) Everyone remembers what a sickening kick in the gut 9/11 was. There will be other tragedies. But there will be other V-J Days and moon landings and Berlin Wall falls.
- In the past decade, many people embraced fear. Over the past decade, I learned to reject. Guess what. I win. The terrorists lose.
- Many people who were shell-shocked on that terrible day said, “Nothing will ever be funny again.” I rejected that as well. Humor was my best defense mechanism. After all, it’s people with no sense of humor who killed three thousand people that day. And I firmly believe anyone without a sense of humor is already rotting in hell.
Seven years ago this morning, I walked out to my car and saw that I had a flat tire. With no Triple A at the time, I knew it’d be a bad day. I shelled out the $40, had the car towed up to my mechanic, and waited in at the Servati Pastry across the street while Bruce pulled a shard of broken glass out of my tire.
After breakfast, I ran back across Beechmont Avenue (really not a bright thing to do if you’ve ever been on Beechmont between 5 AM and midnight). In the lobby, while Bruce wrote up my bill, I caught the news on the battered 19-inch. One of the Twin Towers was on fire. Someone flew a plane into the side of it. My first thought was “How do they put that out?” followed by “What moron buzzes the tallest building in the world?” This was followed immediately by “It’s a beautiful September day. Why the hell don’t I play hookie?” I paid my bill, oblivious to what was really happening and tried to think of a good excuse to get off work.
I got home in time to see the plane hit the second tower. A coworker called and said, “Take half a day. We have no idea what’s going on.”
I hung up. My computer was up and running (on dial-up, no less). As Charlie Rando, a college kid I knew from Connecticut, IM’d me, asking “J, this is spooky stuff. What’s going on?” As those words popped up on my screen, I turned and watched one of the towers collapse. By then, Fox’s DC crew was trying to figure out whether the White House or the Pentagon had been hit.
The real question is whether the world really changed that day?
Here’s the unpopular answer: No.
A lot of people in this country woke up to something I knew a long time ago. The world is not safe. It never was safe. It never will be safe. Paradoxically, I’ve taken a lot of comfort in that. I’ve flown more since 9/11. I still work near three major terrorist targets, and my biggest worry is dodging television cameras. (Imagine that. The comedian can’t stand being on television.) A lot of people adopted a bunker mentality after the attacks. I didn’t. If the world was always dangerous, what changed?
Plastic sheeting over the windows? Duck and cover.
H5N1 bird flu? Swine flu.
The more fear mongering done by the government, mostly out of an inept ability to look like it’s doing something dammit, the more I shrugged. It’s like that Tommy Lee Jones line from Men in Black. “There’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet…”
Only difference is I know there’s a great plague lurking somewhere in the gullet of a bird or some little coward convinced if he blows up the federal building across the street from my job that he’ll be greeted by seventy-two virgins or some little Napoleon wannabe who thinks a nuke would make a great little toy.
And you know what? I also know I spent the first twenty-six years of my life with 75% of the Soviet nuclear arsenal pointed at me, and some of it still is, along with part of China’s. Guess what.
I got up yesterday morning, took a long shower, and rode the bus into work reading Sean Chercover’s latest. I interviewed for a new position. I took a long walk with Nita in the park after dinner. I reassembled my oversized monster of a desk. Today, I meet with a possible corporate client about doing some standup at company functions in the near future.
I’m submitting a nonfic book proposal and going over a novel and working with a Realtor to offload one of our houses. I’m getting ready for college and planning to vote for Barack Obama.
In other words, I have refused to go down into the bunker. It’s not that I’m oblivious to the danger. I just refuse to bow to it.
Because that’s really when the terrorists win. I refuse to be a hostage.