Crazy talk.

For a few days now, I’ve been tossing links into a pile for a 9/11 anniversary post, probably with an opening paragraph about how much I hate anniversary journalism, but they’re getting so numerous I’m wondering if it isn’t time to jump the gun a bit.

We all have our 9/11 memories, ideas and conclusions, and I’m sure people will share them in comments. But when I look back, and look forward a bit, the overarching theme that stays with me is this: Crazy Talk.

When I was culling my old columns for wayback week, I winced at my post-9/11 thoughts, and winced further, thinking of some of the things others I knew or read said at the time. It was such a jarring event, so unsettling to virtually everyone, that I’ve come to grant blanket amnesty for whatever came out of your mouth or keyboard from September 11 through, say, December 31, 2001. Nearly four months should be time enough to come to our senses, from freaked-out Maureen Dowd (who nearly collapsed in a puddle of anxiety, and shared every word with her suffering readers) to the far worse “warbloggers,” people like James Lileks and his “give me the gun, show me the cave” snarling about going mano-a-mano with Osama bin Laden. Ego te absolvo. Go and sin no more.

Of course, most people didn’t get the second part, and 9/11 became the precipitating event for the culture war to really ramp up, to go from a series of skirmishes to a full-out take-no-prisoners scorched-earth campaign, or, as the now-retired blogger the Poor Man called it, the War on Straw.

One of the battles was over what was the correct response to the events, and I have to admit this: When the cable networks all stopped showing the video of the planes hitting the towers, on some mutually agreed-upon idea that to do so was too painful for those who’d lost loved ones in the event, I was disappointed. I couldn’t watch that enough. I still can’t. The images were so astounding they achieved a terrible beauty. But you couldn’t say so, then. Someone was always policing the conversations for wrongthink, and would scold you. On their stupid warblog.

I worked my way through New York magazine’s special issue, “The Encyclopedia of 9/11,” over several hours the other day when I was down at Wayne. Its bite-size bits were convenient for reading between students, and conveyed the same slide-show effect memory has.

But it wasn’t until I read this piece, by Stanford English professor Terry Castle, about remarks made in the aftermath by German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, that I said, yep.

You probably don’t remember this minor detail — I didn’t — but here’s what Stockhausen said at a music festival in Germany a few days after 9/11:

The events of 9/11, he’d enthused, were “the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos.” Things had gone from bad to worse to incendiary when, like Batman’s Joker, he warmed to his theme: “Minds achieving something in an act that we couldn’t even dream of in music, people rehearsing like mad for ten years, preparing fanatically for a concert, and then dying; just imagine what happened there. You have people who are that focused on a performance and then 5,000 people are dispatched to the afterlife, in a single moment. I couldn’t do that. By comparison, we composers are nothing.”

A crazy thing to say, no doubt. I’m not even entirely sure what he meant by it. Castle goes a little deeper, and comes up with a very Stanford-English-seminar sort of explanation:

At Stanford, I often teach a course on Gothic fiction. …In eighteenth-century aesthetics, the Sublime was anything that by its size, strength, or the danger it posed to human life produced instinctive terror and awe. Certain natural objects, philosophers like Kant maintained, were necessarily sublime: erupting volcanoes, tempests, huge waterfalls, ferocious beasts, racing floods, swiftly enveloping darkness, and so on. But man-made phenomena could also be sublime: ancient ruins, grim fortresses, the interiors of great cathedrals, colossal towers, pitch-black dungeons, and the like.

The theory held that when sublime objects were contemplated from a position of safety—when, say, one saw a volcanic eruption from a great distance, or even just read a description of one—the results could be thrilling and pleasurable. Unmediated sublimity terrorized, yes, but representations of sublimity produced excitement, a monster-rush of euphoria. The point was not lost on eighteenth-century Gothic novelists; like disaster filmmakers today, they realized that, skillfully packaged, things otherwise dread-inspiring could be a source of perverse yet intoxicating delight.

Castle goes on to say that when she teaches this course, she sometimes shows slides of paintings in this tradition, interspersed with photos from the World Trade Center, similarities that couldn’t be more obvious.

Lots of people said crazy things after 9/11, but lots of people said things that were simply difficult to hear. Barbara Kingsolver, for one, who spoke of jingoism and censorship, and no longer being able to regard an American flag with “unambiguous pride.” And then there was the writer Elizabeth Wurtzel, who refused to get out of bed to look at what was visible from her apartment window that day, at least not until the second tower collapsed, infamously said later, “I just felt, like, everyone was overreacting. People were going on about it. That part really annoyed me.” Not crazy, but self-consciously provocative in such an oozily gross way it still grates.

Who remembers the widely circulated email — or maybe it was an article somewhere — about the best way to stop another in-progress hijacking? Carry a can of Spam or other tinned pork, and throw it at the jihadis, who would quail before it like Kryptonite. And speaking of email forwards, how about the endless, witless urban legends people were always passing along? Ten (or five, or six, or 22) NYC firefighters were found safe in the rubble, because they’d been driving a sturdy American-made, gas-guzzling SUV. Some other guy surfed the rubble down from the 100th floor and lived to tell about it. (That one is actually in the New York compilation. Very thinly based on fact, that one.) How many times did you get sent a picture of the towers rebuilt in the shape of a thrusting middle finger, or the slide show of photos set to Enya music? It got to where my email was as much a curse as boon. I stood in line behind a woman in the checkout line at Target — doing my duty, shopping for the economy — who wanted to discuss in maddening detail with the clerks the fact 911 is also the emergency number, and isn’t that just fascinating? I actually stopped reading U.S. news sources for a week or two, preferring to stick to comparatively sober Europeans, an early advantage of the internet.

Did anyone save any of this electronic ephemera? Someone must have. I don’t know if I’d like to revisit it, not yet, but it might be interesting to view the scar.

What about you? I could scarcely take my eyes off the TV for days. Our digital cable was installed that afternoon, which necessitated the cable guy disconnecting me for about 45 minutes, and I nearly went nuts. When he hooked up the new box and the news reappeared on the screen, I said, “Thank God.” The guy looked a little quizzical, then glanced back at the screen. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Crazy, huh?” It wasn’t much longer before Ashleigh Banfield freaked out while questioning a city official: “Are there bombs in the sewers?!? We’re getting reports there may be bombs in the sewers!”

I guess the cable guy was right.

As it turned out, there were no bombs in the sewers, nor truck bombs on Illinois interstates, nor poison in municipal water supplies. Al Qaeda never attacked Chicago, or Los Angeles, or Disney World. All those warbloggers never got to swing their hammers. Osama bin Laden turned out to be Brer Rabbit, and we dove into the briar patch after him.

Ultimately, when I think of that day I think of the last words so many of its victims were able to say, the people on United 93, the people calling home from the floors above the fire, leaving messages that would be received after they’d died. One of the rare, perhaps the only, Peggy Noonan column I ever liked made the simple observation that when people know they’re doomed, they don’t waste their final moments calling their exes or horrible bosses or estranged family members to tell them how much the caller always despised them. Rather, they call their friends and families to say the same words they’d said only hours before, in many cases: I love you.

The other day I was driving somewhere, and heard Scott Simon read parts of this obituary for Jack Layton, a Canadian politician known for his contrariness. He died of cancer in August, and this was the last thing he told his countrymen, in a final letter released after his death:

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Not so crazy in the end, I guess.

A few final links:

Hank Stuever rounds up some — but not all — of the TV observances.

The memorial at Ground Zero, now nearing completion.

Finally, if you have WSJ access, what if the disaster had happened a decade later? You’d never get off Facebook.

Have a good week, all.

Posted at 1:09 am in Current events |

55 responses to “Crazy talk.”

  1. Dexter said on September 6, 2011 at 3:37 am

    I had gotten off work at 7:00 AM and had stopped to see Mom for a visit when my brother said “a small plane hit the WTC.” I have always been mesmerized by New York anyway so I watched the coverage. It was the late Peter Jennings’ greatest work, I believe. After the second tower went down I finally left for home, staying awake all day watching Jennings.
    After a few days I remember I made a vow to go to New York when the new towers were complete; I figured about three to five years. Guess I was wrong.
    After a year, at work there was an organized “salute to America” or something at sunrise on 9-11, 2002. I remember telling a friend what I thought of the attacks: “…this was the most fucked up thing ever.” And he too just said “yep”.
    My grandson Anthony was nine years old then. Now he is preparing for his first deployment to Afghanistan, his gift-legacy of the fuck-up.
    The weirdest response I got was from a friend when I contacted him after a long break in correspondence. I have known him since 1970, we were army buddies, and he is from New York City and he used to work in Lower Manhattan about 25 years ago, so you know, he has a connection, knows a lot of people in New York…but he said the attacks were a “brilliant strategy, perfectly executed…” Well, I was sort of shocked-dumb—I didn’t quite know what to say. But he left his native island of Manhattan years ago and had that separation, I guess, and he sort of saw the “beauty” of it somehow.
    We’re still friends and all, and 9-11 talk went away after a while, and the attacks actually did inspire me to revive a dead correspondence…ah hell I don’t know; I am depressed after watching the STARZ docu about the 2008 financial disaster caused by greed and avarice by the Wall Street CEOs…it is appalling when you see it…

    “As he did with the occupation of Iraq in No End in Sight, Charles Ferguson shines a light on the global financial crisis in “Inside Job”.”

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  2. alex said on September 6, 2011 at 8:05 am

    I was shopping in the commissary of the high-rise I lived in on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago when an overhead TV screen showed the first plane hitting a tower. I was getting ready to leave for work. Instead, I went back upstairs and woke my stepson and some friends he had over for a slumber party. 9/11 was his nineteenth birthday and they were freshmen at Columbia College, just having started school a few weeks before.

    We sat and watched in amazement as the second plane struck. I called in to work and they said not to come in. Downtown was being evacuated so the kids weren’t going to school. They did, however, venture downtown with their cameras and took some very eerie pictures of the place absolutely deserted, which is something one just never sees unless it’s staged or PhotoShopped.

    For my stepson’s birthday, I took him and his friends out to the Twin Anchors, a rib place on Schiller. Usually there’s a two-hour wait to get served there but we practically had the place to ourselves. The kids ordered alcohol and didn’t get carded. All in all, quite a memorable day.

    As for post-9/11 crap on the internet, there were all kinds of doctored-up photos from the World Trade Center’s observation deck purporting to show the plane coming right at the building and people passed these around earnestly. Then one day I received a series of satirical photos showing the same view with other objects PhotoShopped into the picture. Nance posted one of these—a Macy’s parade balloon figure of the Marshmallow Man. It was some much-needed comic relief at a time when seriousness was the only politically correct response in many quarters.

    To this day, I have to say I was amazed at how much that single event created a sense of unity in this disunited country, and yet it spawned a whole bunch of crazy. It made racism and jingoism socially acceptable again, and I think that’s largely why we’re suffering such political incivility now.

    I still get cornered on occasion by Foxtwats who insist that the Muslims are out to destroy us because their Koran commands them to do so and that our current president is secretly one of them. In fact, I live next door to one such blooming idiot who barely speaks to me anymore because I let her know I ain’t havin’ it.

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  3. John C said on September 6, 2011 at 8:24 am

    I was home with my 2-year-old son while my wife was boarding a plane for New York. When I heard the news I went to the phone to call her, but it rang first. “Did you see the TV?” she asked. “Yes. Where are you?” “At the airport. All the flights are cancelled. I’m coming home.” I then watched the news while my son played and played. After a while he started begging me to read something to him. I finally relented, and pulled out “The Cat in the Hat.” I read it with one eye on the television, and somewhere in the middle of the book the first tower collapsed. I said out loud: “Oh my God.” I thought I had just seen 10,000 people killed. My son reacted playfully, and started marching mimicking me playfully. “Oh my GOD! Oh MY God! OH my god!” That’s when I decided to turn off the television and take him for a walk. We went into the Kroger and, standing in the check-out line, I heard a man say angrily: “We need to bomb them all!” To which the cashier replied, tears welling in her eyes: “Bomb who?” On the way home a reporter for the Detroit News interviewed me on the street, a bizarre twist, since I’d done dozens of ‘man on the street’ interviews in my reporting career, before I became a stay-at-home dad. I recounted the Cat in the Hat story to her, which made it in the paper (and got our family invited to be part of a horrible anniversary package one year later). Later in the day I typed up a short note about the episode in the Kroger, and sent it to my editor at the New York Times, for whom I’d done work as a stringer. It made it into the paper (uncredited, of course, as the NYT didn’t credit stringers, though I got a nice note thanking me for it from David Leonhardt, who wrote the round-up react piece it was in. Actually, it made a nice ending kicker for the story).
    I also remembered that my father, a retired planner, served on a transportation advisory board, that met every month in the World Trade Center. Thankfully, I reached him right away. My mother was still teaching 4th grade in Connecticut, an hour outside NYC, and told me there were several kids in her school whose parents worked in the Towers. They hadn’t heard anything yet. My parents later learned that a good friend of theirs was staying in the Marriott next to the towers. She was walking out of her hotel, heard a loud sucking sound, and looked straight up to see the second jet hit the tower. She started walking north and survived.
    The only other thing I’d add is that I remember hoping very hard, praying, actually, that Bush was a Harry Truman … a seemingly overmatched sort who could rise to the occasion and be a great leader. Not all prayers are answered, I suppose.
    I’ve been lucky to have known many firefighters in my life. It’s still hard for me to think of how many were lost that day. In the Fairfield County (Connecticut) Irish Club, where we sometimes go to dinner when we visit my parents, there is a large, framed photo on a wall near the entrance. It contains head-shot pictures of every New York City firefighter who died. It’s huge. Very, very powerful.

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  4. Dexter said on September 6, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Message boards ruled in 2001, before blogs had taken off. I was active on a few, and I had made a lot of cyber buddies on one national message board which had a lot of New York City residents. Well, bless their souls! Guess what most of them were doing in the aftermath of the attacks, those who were with lovers and spouses? Yep.
    Sex under the clouds of destruction ? This inspired a nice discussion on this behavior and I learned a lot alright, because I couldn’t understand it at first. A lot about clinging to the one you love and all that mushy stuff, and it couldn’t wait until the fire was out.

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  5. april glaspie said on September 6, 2011 at 8:57 am

    That be federal bubmint money, Good Hair.. Fuck you and fuck Tejas. Try it on your own. Or pray about it.

    Might as well Jump.. My dirty little secret. There are several VH songs including this one that I really like. The most astonishing thing about the WTC destruction is how perfectly it lent itself to the PNAC lunacy and the fake Pretzeldent. No matter what anybody says, W was not elected. The painted lady and Justice Elmer Fudd, the Great Canned Duck Hunter, appointed his incompetent ass to do what Clinton was too smart to do. That is, invade Iraq for no good reason. Of course Dickless Cheney figured out how to enrich Halliburton by doing exactly that. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, except that there is no way Oswald got off two shots, and Sirhan was somebody’s tool, but the disappeared cash, by the palletfull in Iraq is extremely suspicious. How did everybody buy this idiocy of invading Iraq because of the WTC bombing? W was convincing? We, as a country should have invaded Saudi Arabia instead, if that wouldn’t have offended W’s BFF.

    John C., that is an excellent story. Bomb who? is enlightening. Surely not the US=enriched Saddam. Or the Raygun=enriched and wea[pnized Ayatollahs. That prevented the October surprise. That is what these assholes did. True scumbags.

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  6. coozledad said on September 6, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Our failed imperial ambition always reminds me of a sculpture that adorned the cenotaph of a hoplite lost in the Sicilian expedition. I’m almost certain I have a photograph here in one of my college history texts, but I’ve been unable to locate it. It’s a bas relief of a kid on the beach, crying into his hands, a Corinthian style helmet lying on the sand beside him. He’s been looking out on a gently incised sea on an otherwise blank stone slab.
    It isn’t simply an evocation of the futility of war, it’s a specific indictment of the hubris of the Athenians themselves: a tombstone for the idiots who believed their popular oligarchy would be a hit overseas, and could be delivered at the point of a sword . They lost that one spectacularly , and ten years later the Athenian Empire was gone.
    That might be an appropriate starting point for a monument for 9/11 and the subsequent Iraq and Afghanistan adventures. Because it’s the moment this country slid into a gran mal seizure, chewed the tongue out of its own head and began to hemorrhage to death. The bas-relief would be the classical referent for the literalists and the simple (me). The more modern approach would be finding some disused subway or metro corridor to build an underground lake filled with recirculating studio blood, or salt water lit from beneath to achieve a similar result. It would be kept just dark enough so visitors would frequently be separated from their wallets.
    I can’t help but remember the imbeciles waving flags and giving their shitty food new names in honor of the great freedom presented them by shamelessness: zombie vampire bastards gnawed by some malevolent spirit, just itching for a hawthorn stake through the heart.
    It was the long awaited opportunity for the dormant worm to come burrowing up out of our collective gut with its dark secret love, and eat our fucking brains.
    I don’t know of a better way to commemorate it than for each of us to eat a whole sack of Wonder bread and spend a couple of days painfully constipated.

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  7. april glaspie said on September 6, 2011 at 9:08 am

    And April Glaspie? She was a competent career diplomat that HW japped on like the crew members he bailed on. This is how this family operates. George HW Bush japped on that plane to save his sorry ass life. No I have no proof, but the morons that buy the Swiftboat horseshit don’t either. What a bunch of fucking idiots, when W was a draft=dodger. What is your stupidity?

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  8. april glaspie said on September 6, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Seriously, HW he didn’t bale on his partners? Wpuld W not bao;?

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  9. Peter said on September 6, 2011 at 9:25 am

    I was on a flight to Miami that morning, and I was scheduled to fly into New York that evening. At the time, I was designing equipment rooms for a telecom company; they were developing a network for large companies to use for secure in-house communications. The New York site was a few blocks from WTC; and I was scheduled to stop by and check up on two projects I did at Tower 1.

    My cell phone was off, and I remember it being the smoothest flight ever, when the pilot announced that we have been diverted to Indianapolis. No one knew why.

    When we got off the plane, a reporter for the Indianapolis Star asked for my reaction, and I said “reaction to what?” When he explained what happened, and I mentioned that I had done a project there, next you thing you know I’m being interviewed.

    My wife and six year old son were home and getting ready for school when the first plane hit; she was trying to get a hold of me when the TV showed the second plane hitting, and my son yelled out that Daddy’s plane just hit the second building.

    One of my former clients was a few floors below the first crash site. He was on the phone with his (now ex) wife, standing by the window, looking out (You had to be real close to look out those windows – they were really narrow), and seeing the plane crash directly above him. Made it out fine. Decided to switch jobs.

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  10. Connie said on September 6, 2011 at 9:29 am

    I was rushing around trying to get to work by 9 and my husband was watching the Today Show. He told me something strange was going on in New York and a WTC tower looked to be on fire. Then I heard him yell my name, he had just seen the second plane hit, live on the Today show. I called my office, told them I couldn’t tear myself away from the TV and stayed and watched through both collapses. By the time I got to work there were TVs everywhere, staff had gone home and gotten them.

    I also remember the photo Nancy mentioned, a guy on the observation deck of one of the towers with a plane coming right behind him. I later saw pics of the same guy in various historic photos, including riding in the car with Kennedy in Dallas.

    I watched a show on TLC the other night and several of the people interviewed saw the plane coming toward their office windows. Shiver.

    For 9-11 books I highly recommend the novel “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathon Safran Foer.

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  11. Jolene said on September 6, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Just a day or two ago, I saw a report on Al Jazeera in which the reporter was showing pictures of the burning WTC to people in Afghanistan, and the people knew nothing about what was going on in the pictures–not where the towers were, not why they were on fire, nada. I shouldn’t have been surprised; a huge percentage of the population is illiterate, and many have never been anywhere other than the village where they were born.

    This seems like the other side of the “Bomb who?” anecdote.* We didn’t know who hit us or why, and neither do many citizens of Afghanistan.

    *That’s a great anecdote, John C. Great job of picking up on it as an apercu re the bewilderment of the day.

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  12. Jolene said on September 6, 2011 at 10:06 am

    My “finding out” moment began w/ a phone call from one of my sisters. I was working at home (in a Maryland suburb of DC), but hadn’t had the TV on. When I picked up the phone, she said, “Hi, you OK?” I had just talked to her the previous evening, so was puzzled–first that she was calling at all and second that she was asking how I was when we had spoken so recently.

    She told me quickly what she had seen and told me to check it out and then, knowing that our mother, who really only understood that I lived in DC, would be freaking out, said, “Call Mom.”

    All these years later, that brief off-kilter moment after my sister spoke is my strongest memory of the day.

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  13. moe99 said on September 6, 2011 at 10:15 am

    I’d just returned from a jog and the kids had the tv on downstairs. We watched the second plane crash into the WTC and then I got them ready for school and went to work. Where I was just sent home because no one knew what building would be next. Taking the bus home, I was behind an Arabic speaking fellow who was on his cell phone constantly talking in a very loud and excited fashion. My private response was not kind.

    Went out to the playfield by our house that afternoon and it was eerie how there were no jets in the sky. Things were very, very quiet.

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  14. Sue said on September 6, 2011 at 10:40 am

    It didn’t take long to hear the report that the owners of the mini-mart/gas station in town were seen dancing in the parking lot. Of course they couldn’t celebrate quietly in the stock room, they had to dance in the streets. I was only surprised that they weren’t shooting automatic weapons in the air and suddenly changing their clothing to flowing robes and terrycloth headwear.
    Also, for months afterward there wasn’t a school event that didn’t have cops everywhere.

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  15. Heather said on September 6, 2011 at 10:45 am

    I had just arrived in Rome a week before to spend the better part of a year there, a longtime dream. I didn’t find out what had happened until hours later–I didn’t have a TV where I was staying, no phone or Internet access, etc. Hard to imagine now. When I came back to the apartment where I had a room, this French woman who was also staying there asked me in broken English, “Did you hear about the . . . bombs?” She let me watch her little TV for a while. I didn’t know anyone there and have never felt so isolated. I didn’t experience the same level of saturation in news, videos, and images as most of my fellow Americans, and I’ve always felt a little odd about it–like I didn’t experience something essential.

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  16. Dexter said on September 6, 2011 at 10:53 am

    I did not consider the instant flag wavers idiots. However, it was strange to be driving on I-69 and see a foreign car pass me with an American flag flying, shredded by the wind, and the car, a Volkswagen, adorned with a giant stick-on flag decal and some slogan. Most flag-adorned vehicles were American made trucks and SUVs until 9-11.
    I did get tired of this jug-eared dude, who must have been a fave of George Steinbrenner. His name is Ronan Tynan and he sort made a part-time job out of singing this song, and he kept at it for years, and I’ll bet that if he’s still alive they will trot him out again this year.

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  17. adrianne said on September 6, 2011 at 11:02 am

    I had just sent my youngest off for his first day of kindergarten. Drove into work without the radio on, for once. When I walked into the newsroom in Syracuse, everyone was standing still watching the second plane hit the tower. For the next 12 hours, everyone in the newsroom buzzed – we put out the afternoon paper, a special bulldog edition of the morning paper, then the next day’s paper. It was an absolute blur. I got a call about noon from my mom, who said that everyone in our family was safe, so far as she knew (her sister worked in Lower Manhattan, and got off at the WTC subway stop.) Then she started crying and said, “The worst part? It’s my birthday!” I’ll always remember that remark, because it seemed to combine the sublime with the minutiae.

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  18. Julie Robinson said on September 6, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Adrianne, I think your mom’s birthday comment falls under Nance’s blanket absolution above.

    Our son’s school let the kids watch TV for awhile, discussed what was happening, and then went to the chapel for prayers. They knew what was going on and were allowed to spend time processing the events. Matt came home upset but grounded.

    In contrast, the school where our daughter was student-teaching decided that was not their job, and the kids should be told by their parents after they got home from their regular school day. The result was a bunch of traumatized teachers who had to pretend nothing was wrong for an entire school day, including Sarah, who was very shaky afterwards for quite awhile.

    It was much like Bush, who thought he should keep reading the book to the little ones and pretend everything was normal. When trauma happens, it needs to be acknowledged for what it is. You can’t protect kids by lying.

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  19. brian stouder said on September 6, 2011 at 11:44 am

    For 9-11 books I highly recommend the novel “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathon Safran Foer.

    The indispensible book, in my opinion, is Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower. It presents a valuable bit of historical background and narrative, for the key players (good guys and bad guys) leading up to that morning – and it is readily accessible to a middle-brow reader like me.

    The thing that will stick with me about the cascade of events on that day was the literal feeling of disbelief; things had ground to a halt in the office in our little corner of the world (Fort Wayne, Indiana); our internet connection (or maybe the internet itself) was overwhelmed and balky, and Pam would call me with the latest. When she said she just heard that the Pentagon was hit, I told her I didn’t believe that; sounded (to me) like they were reporting rumors. And later, when she said one of the twin towers had fallen, I remember saying something like ‘you mean the top broke off?’, and she firmly answered – with as much patience as could be mustered – ‘No. One of the towers is completely gone’. I didn’t argue further, but was still thinking we were having a miscommunication.

    Four years ago I took a day off so Pam and I could complete the purchase of her mini van, and it happened to be September 11. NBC was rerunning their television coverage of that day, just as it had run that day. It was terrible and irresistible; and my respect for Matt Lauer and Katie Couric became permanent. They seamlessly shifted from work-a-day morning teevee to hard news/breaking news reporting, about repeated catastrophic attacks against the city they were in. In fact 30 Rockefeller Center was as likely a target as any tall structure in that city, and they went forward matter-of-factly, and kept their composure.

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  20. Deborah said on September 6, 2011 at 11:46 am

    I was sitting in my car in the parking lot behind the building where I worked in St. Louis. I normally would have been out of the car in the office already but I had NPR on and wanted to hear the end of a story, something about education. Then Bob Edwards interuppted and gave a confusing account of a plane crashing into the first tower. I ran up to the office and told everyone to turn on the radio. We listened in stunned silence. Then we all went over to the the bosses house to watch it on TV.

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  21. Jeff Borden said on September 6, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    I was in the bathroom shaving, listening to WBBM-AM, the all-news station in Chicago, which shifted to simulcast the reports of its CBS sister station in New York that a plane had struck the WTC. I remembered the story of the B-25 crashing into the Empire State Building during WWII and figured something terribly wrong had occurred. Only when a New Yorker called in live and said he had seen the first airplane hit and it was a big, silver commercial airliner did I flip on the TV, just about the time the second plane hit. I’ve often wondered how many people were killed on live television with that second hit.

    I’m with Cooz on the aftermath. In his wildest fantasies, bin Laden could never have imagined how much he would change our country with a single act. For an investment of less than $1 million, he turned our nation inside out and is personally responsible for as much as $2- to $3-trillion in spending on our wars overseas and all the kabuki theater bullshit in the airports. What he did not accomplish, Dick Cheney and the neocons did, embracing torture, extraordinary renditions, unregulated wiretaps, a vast expansion of executive power, etc. And good old Karl Rove, who should be held in perpetuity in one of those medieval “Iron Maidens,” turned terrorism and war into a campaign theme, painting anyone who said “wait a minute” as a terrorist sympathizer.

    I wonder what might have happened if we as a nation had used the 9/11 attacks to rally together with the rest of the world to confront religious extremism, yes, but also to face the fact that our oil addiction is directly attributable to so much of the terrorism problem. What if instead of accepting such simplistic horseshit as W’s statement that “they hate us for our freedom,” we had looked at why the West, in general, and the U.S., in particular, is held in such hateful contempt in so many corners of the world. And, of course, I wonder what would have happened if we had not invaded Iraq and made such a giant hash of things.

    I can never think of 9/11 as anything but a terribly tragic event with repercussions that continue to be felt to our detriment. I wonder if it really won’t be seen as the tipping point, the place where our country really started going to hell in sixth gear.

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  22. Julie Robinson said on September 6, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    I was listening to Morning Edition too and I remember Bob Edwards was saying it was a small plane and maybe the pilot had lost consciousness.

    Jeff B, I think the price tag is more like $6 trillion, three each for Iraq and Afghanistan. Or, almost half our national debt.

    That debt is why I become enraged every time I see Rick Perry; it’s impossible to see him without seeing Bush. Same dumb face with small, squinty eyes; same dumb statements coming out of his sneering mouth. Last night on the news he said he believed in gun control–using both hands. I probably shouldn’t watch the news anymore.

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  23. coozledad said on September 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Julie: And they spit that witless crap out while maintaining they’re “pro-life”. When a Republican says he’s pro-life, it simply means he will use every means at his disposal to deprive women of agency, and the poor of a way out of poverty. Perry’s a happy murderer, just like Bush. Got about as much forebrain as a goddamn salamander. And that’s why his sociopathic ass will be on the Republican ticket.

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  24. James said on September 6, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    My 911 thoughts.

    I was in Indianapolis, during what I often refer to as the “lost years.”

    Rebecca called me, since I was freelancing from home, and told me she heard a small plane had hit the towers. I started watching coverage and was sucked into the vortex.

    I remember going out to get gas, and some fucking profiteer had jacked up prices to over $3 a gallon; an obscene amount, then.

    My favorite story is second hand. Someone (whose identity I’ll keep secret) who was an Indy native told her she was convinced that the next target of the terrorists would be Monument Circle.

    For those of you not familiar with the aforesaid mentioned public space, suffice it to say, you’re not alone. It’s a modest collection of war statuary that practically no one outside of Indy has any idea exists. The odds of some Saudi-backed (oops, are we allowed to say that?) terrorists actually targeting that little piece of real estate was really, really infinitesimal.

    But things were different back then, right?

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  25. paddyo' said on September 6, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    I was half-awake, still lying in bed, when my future ex-wife (a coffee hound who had arisen earlier to pre-emptively stave off a caffeine-deprivation headache), came in with the news. I leapt to the TV for awhile, but I knew I’d be thrust into the mad reporting scramble, via the phones, for my national paper.

    What neither of us expected at that moment was that she, also a reporter, would do the traveling. She was soon off to Ground Zero for The Denver Post — and by October, she had begun an intermittent odyssey across the Middle East that amounted to about seven months’ worth of the next two years. She hit damned near every ‘Stan, from Afghani and Paki to the rest, and Baghdad, too. I shared her email dispatches with a widening circle of friends, colleagues, family. “Danger Girl” crossed Afghani mountain passes on horseback, squatted roadside with a sat-phone, moved in reporter packs for safety (helmet and flak jacket included).

    In retrospect, the aftermath of the attacks was the last, full-lunged gasp of regional newspapers trying to Do Big Things. 9/11 certainly qualified, for a time anyway. And today? Hell, even The Washington Post is shutting suburban bureaus.

    Anyway, I kept the homefires burning and was soon immersed in USA TODAY‘s coverage of the burgeoning “homefront security” (Homeland came a little later) phenomenon. Oh, we had plenty of people trotting around overseas, too, but with a newspaper name like ours, you knew what most of us would really be focused on. No scrap or smidgen of the U-S-A effort at home was too small to document. In fact, the smaller the rural-burg-with-big-homeland-$ecurity-grant-money-plan$, the better. Again, in retrospect, the hysteria had legs, and they were gold-plated.

    But that first scary week, I soon was going next door to Denver’s largest and most multicultural ‘burb, Aurora. I was interviewing terrified Muslim immigrants, mostly Arabs, including a family that was getting ugly telephone threats. Ah, yes, welcome to the land of the free . . .

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  26. Jeff Borden said on September 6, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    If anyone is looking for a little relief from this day of somberness at NN.C, check out wonkette. They have photos of Nancy Grace in one of the getups she will wear as a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars.” Yeeeeesh. It is not pretty.

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  27. Dan B said on September 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    My experience seems to me to say something about communication and connectedness in a time of crisis, or something.

    I was in grad school in Southern California at the time; classes hadn’t begun yet (quarter system), my closest friends weren’t in town, and Rana was living in Minnesota at the time. I had stayed up way too late the night before, so I was still asleep when my mother called. She was wanting to talk about the attacks, but I had no idea of what had happened, so she had to try to explain it to me. I remember her being oddly specific in mentioning the names of the airlines. It seemed almost preposterous as she explained it to me, so I flipped on the radio and got onto the internet.

    I didn’t have a TV at the time, and after talking with both my mother and Rana, it became clear to me that I really needed to see the footage. So I went to a laundromat about a block away and watched it there. I realized they were the first real live human beings I had been near all day, and even though we never talked about it, it felt good to see other people.

    I broke down and bought a small TV within a few months.

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  28. coozledad said on September 6, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Jeff: Shelly Winters as Wilma Flinstone? I hope there’s no pole involved in this dance.

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  29. Bob (not Greene) said on September 6, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Just finished my own contribution to anniversary journalism — sorry Nance! — and a mighty small contribution it was. That’s what happens on the day after Labor Day and with a tight deadline. Oh well.

    Back in 2001, I was in the short period of my career when I wasn’t working at a newspaper (I freelanced, though). I was dropping off the kids at the babysitter before work and was listening to sports radio, when the guy mentioned a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I mentioned it to the babysitter and hopped in the car to go to work, in the John Hancock Building in Chicago.

    The sports station to its eternal credit — I turned to NPR and there was nothing — switched its feed to CBS news and I listened to the attacks unfold as I inched my way to work on the Eisenhower Expressway, wondering if it was such a good idea to go to work in a high-visibility skyscraper.

    I got to work, parked the car and went up to work, where I was told they were evacuating the building for the rest of the day. The TV was on in one of the meeting rooms and a couple of us watched the first tower collapse. I was at work all of 15 minutes before leaving. Went back and was kind of pissed I had to pay for a full day’s parking.

    The thing I remember vividly in the aftermath was the quiet. No planes to O’Hare or Midway.

    One of the other things I remember is one of my little kids parroting something a teacher said in school “They hate us for our freedom” and thought, “Uh oh.”

    The jingoism hasn’t stopped since.

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  30. moe99 said on September 6, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Can we add Richard Cohen to the shitpile with Mitch Albom?

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  31. brian stouder said on September 6, 2011 at 2:34 pm


    And – those Nancy Grace images? Those are NSFW

    (nauseating sensation/fundementally wrong)

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  32. Jeff Borden said on September 6, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Sorry, Brian, but I just had to share Nancy with the world. Given her generally surly personality, let’s hope no one steps on her tootsies. It could get ugly real fast.

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  33. Dorothy said on September 6, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    I was working for a national roofing company in Canonsburg PA 10 years ago and first overheard a cubicle neighbor say she heard something on the radio about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. In no time flat, everyone was on the internet searching for stories. I was one of the two switchboard operators (I had a back up one at my desk, but had the option to shut it off and leave the desk if necessary) so I was getting business calls during that hour or so period when so much was happening. I called Mike, who had moved to Cincinnati to start his new job 3 months previously, and broke the news to him. And I phoned Laura at Penn State, where she had not heard anything yet either.

    I had a lunch date with a co-worker and the place where we ate had televisions on the whole time, so of course they showed the footage over and over again. She kept yapping and all I wanted to do was watch and listen to the t.v., and that made me feel guilty.

    This past Saturday we were in Pittsburgh and I picked up the early edition of the Sunday paper; they had a special 9/11 section because Shanksville is not too far from Pittsburgh. I was surprised to read that a woman who worked at Mine Safety Appliances Company (where I worked from June ’75 to February ’83) was in one of the towers when the plane hit. She just made it outside and was running like the firemen on the ground floor told them to when the building started to collapse. It was chilling to read a first-hand account like that. She did not work there when I did.

    And I’ll never forget the conversation with my 16-year old that night when I got home from work, when he told me how much he loved his country, and he was positive he was going to join the armed forces at some point because “it can’t always be someone else’s son, Mom” is what he told me. He made good on his promise – he joined the National Guard a year and a half after he graduated from Ohio State.

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  34. Connie said on September 6, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    I ahve two friends who are reps for the big book wholesaler Baker and Taylor, and they had met up at Midway Airport in Chicago to head to their fall sales meeting in New Jersey. They were quite surprised to be told all flights were cancelled and the airport was being evacuated with no explanation. They grabbed a cab, and asked the driver to take them to the nearest sports bar where they spent the day watching TV. And drinking beer. This is the same company that lost much of its executive and sales staff in a nasty Chicago plane crash (May 1979?) at the tail end of what is now known as Book Expo.

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  35. Bob (not Greene) said on September 6, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Connie, That was Flight 191. I was in high school at the time and remember the famous photo in the newspaper the next day. Scary as hell.

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  36. Bob (not Greene) said on September 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Oh, and who is the real clout behind the GOP these days? These people are a good start:

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  37. brian stouder said on September 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    We have been to Shanksville, and the quiet there was embracing.

    Construction on a visitor center/memorial was just beginning, and our lunatic email forwards were not YET indicating that the memorial itself was actually an Islamic memorial in disguise. This only came to pass after President Obama’s election.

    “Never let a crisis go to waste” – indeed.

    edit: re- the Koch Brothers. Hey – they didn’t kill anyone today!

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  38. Bill said on September 6, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    We were having a wonderful time. My wife, our two college friends from Madison, Wisconsin and I had spent 5 days in Paris. We visited the Louvre, the Orsay art museum, Versailles, Notre Dame and the Chartres Cathedral. We were scheduled to leave Paris on 9/11 and go to Athens to start an Elderhostel tour of Greece, the Greek Isles and Turkey. The airport shuttle picked us up at our hotel. On the way we stopped at several other Paris hotels to pick up other passengers. I remember sitting next to a woman from New York City who was returning home to New York. I thought of her often during the coming days.

    We caught our plane to Athens, and arrived at our hotel about 4 p.m. which was 8 pm. In Chicago. When we entered our room I switched on the TV and tuned to CNN International where they were talking about a jet plane hitting one of the twin towers. I had been in the towers several years before for a business meeting on the top floor. As we watched we were horrified to see another plan crash into the second tower. We sat there in a foreign country spellbound by what was appearing on the television.

    Being in a strange country, far from family and friends and seeing such a sight and knowing that the world was changing in front of our eyes was surreal. We faxed our daughter at her office in suburban Chicago to let her know that we were OK and to find out if she was alright. We couldn’t reach our son or his wife. Within a few hours we learned that everyone of our family in the US was OK. Our daughter’s employer at that time, Service Master, had conducted a prayer service for their employees.

    We met later with the Elderhostel people. They were kind and solicitous, and offered their sympathy for our plight. They explained that it would be folly to try to return to the US, as no planes would be flying for the foreseeable future. Their best advice was to continue with the planned itinerary and, if we really felt compelled to return to the states that we let them know and they would see if and when they could accomplish this.

    Obviously, no one could make any arrangement to return so everyone agreed to continue with the planned itinerary. So, we toured Athens and saw the Parthenon and other sights. We sailed on a small ship holding our 30 Elder Hostlers and a couple of tour directors. We visited Thessaloniki and many of the Greek islands. We had arranged a tour extension to Turkey which we took visiting Istanbul and Ephesus.

    In many of the Greek islands, merchants had displays in their windows with lighted candles expressing their sympathy to American visitors. Nearly everyone in Greece expressed their sympathy to our group. Several people in our group were interviewed by TV and newspaper reporters. While we had a very nice time, it was if we were traveling under a cloud. The disasters were always the “elephant in the room” that would go unmentioned for awhile, but then be returned to in conversation.

    I thought often about the lady from New York who was on the airport shuttle in Paris. We had heard that many flights arriving in New York were diverted to Greenland or Iceland or Canada. I’m sure she and thousands of others didn’t get back to New York for a long time.

    Many of the tour guides we met in Turkey we told us that our group was the last tour they would be conducting for a long while.

    On returning to the U.S, we were amazed at the numbers of flags displayed in front of private homes. And I remember going to our community’s memorial service for those killed in the bombings. Our pastor was assigned the most difficult role, praying for those who conducted the bombings.

    After ten years, none of it makes any sense.

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  39. Connie said on September 6, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Bill’s story reminds me of the book The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim Defede. 38 planes were grounded in Gander Newfoundland for several days starting on 9-11. This is the story of how that community took those passengers in for several days. My favorite part was when Hugo Boss had to buy underwear at Walmart. Highly recommended as a different point of view on that day and the days following.

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  40. Maggie Jochild said on September 6, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    I’m working on a more detailed account of that day in my life, but I do remember realizing what kind of trouble we were in when Congress assembled on outside marble steps and burst into patriotic song. They hadn’t a clue what to do, and reached for the high of jingoism. I knew then they’d let Dubya do whatever he wanted, and his wants were always damaging.

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  41. A.Riley said on September 6, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    That’s a good phrase, Maggie, “the high of jingoism.” There was a lot of that going on. Creepy, creepy, creepy.

    And the combination of jingoism with a really sick level of sentimentalization (there’s got to be a better word) of anything to do with the event creeped me out then and creeps me out now.

    And why is the event commemmorated as “Patriot Day”?

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  42. LAMary said on September 6, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    When I see Nancy Grace I don’t wonder WHO did her hair. I wonder WHY.

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  43. nancy said on September 6, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    I might be in the minority here, but I didn’t see the “God Bless America” moment at the Capitol as anything other than a wounded, grieving, baffled group of people searching for a gesture that made sense to them. Everything that came after, we can hold them accountable for, but that night, it fit.

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  44. Connie said on September 6, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    I don’t know LAMary, I have always wanted Nancy Grace’s haircut.

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  45. MarkH said on September 6, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Nancy @43: my sentiments exactly.

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  46. LAMary said on September 6, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    Don’t do it Connie. It’s scary.

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  47. moe99 said on September 6, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    Nancy Grace looks so plebian compared to the models and clothing made by Chinese designer, Guo Pei:

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  48. Dave said on September 6, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    My wife’s friend, that she attended school with and then worked with for awhile, lost her boyfriend to flight 191.

    My memories of 9/11 are nothing spectacular but I remember how empty the skies were, no contrails anywhere, no sign of any aircraft, except for the one lone jet we saw about three days later when we were enroute to Goshen, IN. We were south of Goshen and saw a jet which almost appeared to be hovering and then it was off. Perhaps it was a UFO, we still wonder exactly what we saw.

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  49. Joe Kobiela said on September 6, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    The first planes that were alowed to fly were freighters and check haulers. I flew the first flight off of Auburn up to South Bend and back to Fort Wayne, arrived At S.B. and the place was a Ghost town with the military patroling the perimiter. The Radio was extremly quiet. When we got back to Fort Wayne there was a squad of blackhawk helicopters refueling with their guns loaded. You needed to be on a Instrument flightplan to go anywhere even a 10 mile hop to Auburn from FWA.
    Pilot Joe

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  50. Jolene said on September 6, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    What’s a check hauler, Pilot Joe?

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  51. basset said on September 6, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    let me jump in on that… even with banking being mostly electronic, paper checks must still be carried from place to place, in bulk and on a tight schedule. I rode on a check flight a few years ago, a nightly run from Nashville up to Columbus; every day after the banks closed, smaller planes would bring big canvas bags of checks from Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Memphis which would go onto a Learjet (Joe, if I remember right it was a 35)at Nashville and get sorted during the flight. Hop off at the other end, throw the bags out, pick up some more, quick turnaround, head home.

    Just by coincidence we were there on Halloween night, which explained why the two pilots on another small jet (Diamond) got off dressed as Batman and Robin. Took a second to catch up with that.

    I worked in our local school district central office during 9/11 – not long after air traffic resumed, I got a call from a hysterical parent at my son’s elementary school, all worked up because she could see two contrails crossing in the sky and that marked the school for an attack, didn’t we know the janitor was Middle Eastern?

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  52. MichaelG said on September 6, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    If you remember, in early September of 2011, Bush had only been president for something over seven months. He had done nothing and his numbers were tumbling. The press was starting to get on him and he was starting to look like, well, George Bush. Then came the eleventh.

    I was at work when one of the women in the place told me with some tension in her voice that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. This was very early in the morning in Sacramento. We showed up at work at about 5:30. Shit, I still do. My first thought was of the B-25 that had hit the Empire State Building many years ago. I assumed that some lost soul in a Cessna had crashed into a WTC tower. The web was a little slower to show events then and there was no streaming video, but it soon became evident that something serious had happened. We followed as best we could on the radio and searching the net until the big boss showed up. He had a small TV in his office. Then we could see.

    We watched for a time and the boss said “Fuck it, everybody go home.” or words to that effect. The “Fuck it” was there, though. About that time he got a call from the big bosses in the main building sending people home. As usual, Bob had been ahead of the curve.

    On the ride back to Auburn I got a call from a friend. We met in a bar in old town and over several beers watched the towers collapse live and watched the planes hit the buildings again and again on tape. Then I went home.

    My wife and I watched for I don’t know how long, with things repeated over and over and the experts and pundits speculating until their tongues got thin.

    I saw our President in that Florida classroom looking like the proverbial deer in the headlights. Doing nothing.

    A few hours later I found out that he had been hustled out of the classroom to AF-1 and flown to a SAC base in Nebraska or Colorado, I forget which. That was when I came to know who George Bush was. Our President, in a time when his leadership was needed, could be found cowering in a secure AF base out west when he should have been in D. C. taking charge and, most importantly being seen to take charge.

    If I had ever had any doubts about Shrub, that day killed them. I had, at that time, no idea about who or what or how. I just knew that I wanted our leader to lead and he was absent. In hiding. The cowardly motherfucker.

    A few weeks later, my son in law, who was in the 160th SOAR, was the crew chief on the first response helicopter into Afghanistan. He was there until just before Christmas flying CIA operatives (including the one who was famously killed) on their secret missions.

    In the aftermath of the horrible events of that day the U.S. had a sudden and large swelling of good will and sympathy directed toward us worldwide. It took the Bushies no time to kill it.

    When my son in law got home, he was promoted and reassigned to a slot at the Special Warfare Command headquarters at Ft. Bragg. His old chopper and crew were sent back to A-Stan where they were shot down and all perished. That happened about the time the Shuttle crashed. At the time, I did a post in the nn.c comments about those events. I can’t find it or I’d repost it.

    Sorry to sound so negative but that’s what I took away from that day.

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  53. Dexter said on September 7, 2011 at 2:13 am

    MichaelG: You will find the info in the link here interesting.
    Bush indeed was sent away from his leadership HQ, way-away from D.C.

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  54. ROGirl said on September 7, 2011 at 7:48 am

    I was at work when someone said that a small plane had crashed into the WTC. I turned on my radio and started listening to NPR. Someone turned on a TV in one of the offices and a lot of people gathered in there. We watched as the second plane hit and the buildings fell. Eventually the office closed because the schools closed and people with kids had to pick them up.

    That day I was supposed to travel across the state to a meeting, driving with a co-worker. Other people were flying in from around the country. Their planes landed and they all had to find a way to get home. I heard about one guy who landed in Cleveland and had to drive a rental car home to Florida.

    It felt like things would never be the same again; the world had changed irrevocably. I remember wondering what the hell the president was doing flying all around the country and not going back to Washington to do something. Maybe he should have stayed in the air.

    When I went to my gym later in the week something seemed different in the locker room, but I couldn’t pin it down, until I realized that it was quiet. They had turned off the muzak. Unfortunately, they eventually turned it back on.

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