Forget September 11!
Remember the day we got blown up!
And turn off those stupid lights at the Convention Center!
First, too many details:
Where were you 3 years ago today, around 9 in the morning, New York time? I was waking up extra slowly in my miniscule East Village apartment. NPR sounded funny that morning - something about evacuating and trying to stay on the air. Whatever. I wandered out into the kitchen to make the coffee go. My roomie came out of his bedroom and told me a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. We both worked at a nonprofit on Wall street, 10 blocks or so from the WTC. "Freaky," I said. "D'you think we should still go to work?"
He turned on the TV and whatever show it was had pictures of the Pentagon on fire. "Aim high!" I said. "Yeah, I guess that wasn't an accident," he said. We doodled around drinking coffee in front of the TV until we decided, what the hell are we doing? This is happening down the street!
So we set out walking west to where we figured we could see the towers from. We went past a diner where people were crowded around a TV. Somebody screamed "Oh my god the fucking thing fell down!" A plane hitting the WTC was one thing, but the towers actually falling down seemed impossible. We kept walking, looking for someplace we could see something first hand. We kept heading east - did we used to be able to see it from here? How about here?
When we got to Broadway a whole horde of evacuees was coming uptown on foot. I saw a yuppie covered head to toe in white ash, he was talking to someone with the giddy tone of voice you get when you know you could have just died, about running like hell out of a cloud. Whenever there was a clear view to the south, the street came to a stop in an opaque mass of grey smoke.
The news filtered in, some of it first or second hand, some of it from the tv. A friend was getting breakfast to go and walked out to find most of an airplane's landing gear in the street in front of him. We watched press conference after press conference with Giuliani in an "undisclosed location" with that weird clock behind him. New York 1 News accosted Dianne Keaton, who lived near the site, and asked her what she had to say to New York. We need blankets, boots and sweatpants, she said. The rescue workers' boots are melting. A co-worker came up from the subway and saw people jumping from the burning building. Some friends on Staten Island volunteered setting up a "triage area" for survivors, but there weren't any survivors.
I spent the next 6 days straight with my boyfriend. We wandered around the city wearing those silly dust masks that we all knew wouldn't save us from all the fire trucks and file cabinets we were breathing in, but they at least made everything smell like your own breath, instead of an electrical fire. We made tomato soup and ate late summer strawberries. We left town for a few days to his parents' place outside Philadelphia, and sat around a picnic table in his backyard getting ripped on their champagne. The next day I was so hung over I threw up in every bedroom of his parents' house. It was love, after all.
There was something magic about that week. This ridiculous, crazy, vicious thing had happened, and everybody knew the world was different, but nobody knew how. And we knew that this thing had happened to us, but that it would be taken away from us by people who it hadn't happened to, and made ugly - made into war.
Which is, of course, what happened. "September 11th" happened. Osama Bin Laden urinal cakes happened, and American flags went up left and right. The national guard got called in to New York. There wasn't really anything for them to do, so they directed traffic, machine guns dangling at their sides. George W. came to town and looked like a lost nincompoop yelling through his bullhorn amid the smoke. The press rallied round him saying how presidential he was all of a sudden, since he was the only president we had. (Kind of like me and my boyfriend...) After W. came a parade of celebrities - the wreck got named "Ground Zero" and every b-list movie star or bronze-medal olympian who happened to be passing through town got taken into the pit to be "inspired" by the firefighters. The entire legislative branch of the U.S. government went to church and sang God Bless America at the top of their lungs - now there's a legitimate target.
Here we are now, and everybody knows the rest. "September 11" somehow came to be about firefighters finding crosses in the wreckage, then about "heroism" (how about "really, really awful luck" instead!) and finally about really poorly-focused revenge. A state of total war has been declared against the tactic of "terrorism," so basically we're at war until everybody that might give us the heebie jeebies is dead. Plus at war against ourselves via the Patriot Act and the like, plus at war against Iraq for good measure. None of this has anything to do with what happened 3 years ago - "September 11" just got turned into the modern equivalent of the "Hitler argument" - if your opponent manages to invoke September 11 in a debate, it simply means, "I am right and you are wrong. So quit whining and get in line."
It's like what happened, if not to me then down the street from me, has now been sanitized, focus-grouped, packaged, and made into a family friendly re-election slogan. All of which makes he fact that those stupid, poorly focused lights pointing up out of a decidedly not-blown up convention center have been turned on again this year extra distressing.
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