Notebook – 9/15/01
Scattered thoughts from a scary week. What follows is not a cohesive
essay but notes from a mind running on Pepsi and10 hrs sleep over 3
days. I’m writing this at 11:29PM.
What do you say? How do you say it?
I really don’t know what to write, what to say that hasn’t been said in
some way. And I certainly don’t have the energy, the stomach, or even
the frame of mind to write some fluffy, humorous piece about what I had
for dinner last night or my book or whatever. No energy or drive to
debut new web site features or post links to columns. Everything seems
There are few things better than a clear day in New York City. And
could you have asked for a more beautiful, sunny day than Tuesday,
September 11? The video shows a day made for walking in the park,
sightseeing, or filming one of those NYC romantic comedies that seem to
be so popular. But it seems that in the end all that beautiful sky did
was make it easier to see the destruction that happened live on national
television. The red and the white and the black of the explosion etched
across a clear blue sky.
Don’t kid yourself. The video of the planes crashing into the towers,
the fireball, the debris falling, the people falling, the witnesses
screaming, is the most shocking thing most of us will ever see. It’s a
war novel come to life. It’s horrible movies like “Armaggedeon”
and “Independence Day.” It’s that damn cheese commercial with Mighty
Mouse eating while tall buildings fall apart and innocent civilians run
for cover in the streets. If they ever run that ad again I’m going to
flip out, call the company, and rip them a new asshole.
Like the Pearl Harbor bombing or the assassination of JFK or the
explosion of the Challenger, we’ll remember where we were when this
devastation occured. I was at Barnes and Noble, getting a drink at the
cafe, when a woman came up to me and asked me if I had heard what
happened. I didn’t know whether to believe it or not, not just because
of my questioning nature but because she too had heard it second hand
from another customer. But then I heard someone else talking about it.
I grabbed my drink and ran over to the mall to watch the news on the TVs
in the audio/video section of Sears. I wasn’t the first one there.
Twelve or so other people, along with most of the staff, were watching
in horror and awe too. I wished that I was home, for obvious reasons,
but I also was glad that I was out when this happened. Most of us don’t
get bonding moments with strangers when we are out. It’s usually a
glance or a nod or some trivial interaction to pass the time while we
are at a restaurant or shopping or at a movie. But we were all talking.
And I’m glad I was a part of that for at least a morning and an
afternoon, which was spent at a restaurant, watching the news at the bar
with other people. It was marred only by an Eric Roberts lookalike,
just about to go into rehab for some vague drug addiction, who said we
should “just nuke ’em all!” Oh, that and the bartender who didn’t want
to watch it anymore, probably because she was missing her soaps or
Springer. I swear if she had changed the channel I would have thrown my
Sam Adams at her, and I wouldn’t have been the only one.
I’m struggling in vain to do something else besides watch the television
coverage (and I have to give them credit – except for a few bad moments
the coverage has been non-sensational). Glance through that terrific,
fun-filled coffee table humor book I just bought. Write a column. Read
a magazine. But I can’t do any of that. I just want to watch all of
the TV stations at once. I want to get all of the information that I
can. I’ve been wondering why I can’t tear myself away from the tube,
whether it’s noon or whether it’s midnight, and I think I’ve got it:
When I watch, I feel like I’m contributing, like I’m helping, in some
way. I feel if I don’t watch, then I’m not doing my part.
This isn’t just the fact that hundreds if not thousands lost their lives
in a sudden, horrible act. This is American pop culture itself being
ripped apart. How can we watch the thousands of hours of movie and TV
shows that feature the twin towers? They’ve already taken the trailers
to “Spiderman” offline because it features the WTC prominently. The new
Ahnuld movie is about terrorism, as is the new comedy “Big Trouble” and
several new CIA shows this fall. All will be postponed, heavily edited,
or cancelled. How can we watch reruns of set-in-NYC comedies like
“Friends” and see the shot of the NYC skyline and not think of the
terrible death and destruction? And this isn’t like watching some 40s
drama and seeing all the actors who are now dead. This happened in
color, before our very eyes, live on television. It’s real, it’s now.
We are never going to forget this. It’s always going to be around us.
I have a confession: like many people in their 20s and 30s, I take the
American flag for granted. It’s that symbol – yeah, the one with the
stars and stripes that people are always against burning – but it’s not
something I ever really think about. I was never patriotic. Oh, sure,
I was all for America and all, but it was always in a hip, distanced,
cynical way. Like I knew more or understood more about the American
flag then those people who live in the middle of the country. Salute
it? Pray for it? Put a bumper sticker on my car that says something
about my country? Bah.
No more. Now I understand. As I write this, around 5,000 are dead, a
nation feels vulnerable, businesses and livelihoods have been destroyed.
Families torn apart. And it’s quite possibly one of the biggest
challenges a U.S. President has ever faced, on a par with the Civil War
and WWII. This is going to define his presidency (and if you’re looking
for George W. Bush jokes, go somewhere else today).
There is going to be a cry, a pleading that we don’t rebuild the twin
towers. That we instead put some sort of memorial or park or monument
there in it’s place, to “remind” us of what happened and to remember
the victims. That would be a mistake. We don’t need monuments and
flowers to remember the victims. We will never forget. REBUILD. We need
that pop culture image back, for our own peace of mind, to get things
back to normal in some way. Rebuild them, whether it’s one tower or
two, and again name them The World Trade Center. Guard the thing like
crazy. Make the new WTC the memorial for the old one. A structure that
shows hope for the future while remembering the past. That would be the
best thing to do.
The cliches are coming rapidly. “Tuesday is a day the country will
never forget.” “The country will never be the same.” “This is another
Pearl Harbor.” The funny thing about cliches though is that they become
cliches for a reason. It IS a day you’ll never forget. This country,
in some way, WON’T ever be the same. At least it shouldn’t be. And
this really is our Pearl Harbor. I just hope that we have another
“Greatest Generation” that can do something about it.
There is a real difference, a palpable difference, between what the U.S.
was like on Monday, September 10, 2001, and Tuesday, September 11th.