I guess, since Saturday is the 20th anniversary of you-know-what, I should write something about that today.
But I don’t know that I want to. I grew up with “where were you when you heard the president had been shot,” and it’s been replaced by this tragedy, and few of the answers are all that interesting. I was in school. I was at work. I was in the subway. I was there. We all carry a little bit of that day in our hearts, and we all have our stories. Like most of daily life, they’re quotidian for the most part.
I remember the after-times. I once said that I forgive everyone in the world anything crazy they said from that date until…January 1. Bomb Afghanistan to glass? You said that? Fine with me. You said you were glad George Bush was in charge that day and not Al Gore? Sure, that’s OK, as long as you admit history has shall we say proven you wrong. And so on. After 9/11 came anthrax, remember. We saw news anchors flipping out on live TV. Maureen Dowd was howling for Cipro. It was a strange, scary time. You were permitted to be afraid.
All I want to remember this weekend is my own personal slideshow of moments. Like…we had digital cable installed that day, which necessitated turning the TV off for about half an hour while the guy worked on the pole outside. I could hardly stand it. When it came back on, I said THANK GOD or some such, and this incredibly mellow and chill cable guy glanced at the TV, shrugged and said, “Yeah. Crazy.” Like I’d been watching roller derby.
I remember the stupidity, the witless public statements, that no one was embarrassed to say out loud. A woman ahead of me in the Target checkout line went on and on about 9/11 and 911 as an emergency number, and wasn’t it obvious the attackers had chosen that day for that reason? The endless rumors, such transparent bullshit, repeated by people who should know better. Did you hear about the six firefighters who were found safe in the basement because they’d been in a sturdy full-size SUV that somehow stood up to having a building fall on it? Remember the photo of the guy standing on the World Trade Center observation deck while the plane zoomed in behind him? Professional debunkers had to take that one apart like the Zapruder film. The “speech made by the pilot on the first flight afterward” story? The advice to travelers? Pack a can of Spam in your carry-on, and throw chunks of it at the hijackers. Evidently they’d be repelled, like Kryptonite. And this was before social media. If Facebook had existed then, we’d still have our thumbs up our big dumb asses.
And the wars, oh my god. The marketing names alone. First it was Operation Infinite Justice, because we can’t just call a war a war anymore, but that was rejected because Muslims were offended or something, and so it became Operation Enduring Freedom. How’d that work out, everyone? Are the Afghans free? Is it enduring? How about us? In my brief period as a copy editor, I took sadistic pleasure in changing every reference in copy from the marketing name to “the Gulf war,” “the second Gulf war,” “the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan,” etc. Over the years, however, I’ve found it’s a pretty good marker for the sort of person I’m talking to/reading. “When I was deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom…” is a signifier that you are not dealing with a straight shooter. Anyway, there have been so many Operation Windy Adjective Patriotic Nouns of late, it’s hard to remember which is which.
The fear. I remember that, too. Sitting in earshot of the police reporter on Friday afterward, listening to the calls on the scanner, one after another, all of which boiled down to: Swarthy Man spotted on my street. Maybe he was walking with another Swarthy Man. These calls were especially prevalent around the east-side neighborhood in Fort Wayne that contained a technical college favored by South Asians. Who are swarthy, by and large.
The newspapers and websites are full of tell-us-your-story stories, already. There are some pretty good ones, but most are about Plucky People Who Never Gave Up Hope, because that’s what we like, I guess. I think of the stories I’d like to read, and I think of …maybe this WashPost piece on the summer before that September. My current editor worked there then. He was on the Chandra Levy story, for weeks on end. Spent two weeks in Modesto, Calif., knocking on doors. What an amazing indulgence that would never, ever happen today. I would like to read a story aimed at young people, telling them all the things we now take for granted that we owe to 9/11: Surveillance cameras everywhere. Taking off your shoes to go through airport security. That sort of thing.
I think I’ll try to tune out as much as possible this weekend. I don’t need to relive it, I don’t want to relive it. The local firefighters will hang a big flag from a fully extended ladder truck over the main avenue through town, and I’ll probably pass under it in the course of my usual Saturday grind. I’ll keep my eyes front. These guys, by and large, weren’t there. Some of them were still in diapers. I hate sentimentality. Everything changed that day, and most of it wasn’t good. I see no need to get emotional about it.
So. Happy weekend to you? Last weekend before we leave (still assuming we leave, which is not at all certain). Weather’s supposed to be nice. I hope yours is good.