Saturday, September 11, 2010

The 9/11 Bluz

I know a lot of people are doing 9/11 posts this weekend.  This is mine.  So sue me for being unoriginal.  Who else posts about football mojo?

I was at work on September 11, 2001, like so many millions of others.  I was working at an office building in downtown Baltimore.  My friend Karen yelled at me to come over to her cube and then told me that a plane just hit one of the Twin Towers.

I assumed it was a small personal aircraft, like a Cessna or something.  So I was like, “Wow, that’s too bad.  I hope there’s not much serious damage.”

I went back to my cube and continued with the day’s affairs, until a few minutes later when she called me over again and said, “A second plane just hit the other tower.”

Now I knew there was something terribly awry.  The first could have been an accident; the 2nd made it a plot.  I stood in her cube and we both listened to the radio.  Eventually the word came out that it was 2 airliners that hit The Towers, which were now on fire.

Holy shit!  What the hell is going on here?

I returned to my cube and put on my own radio, then spent the rest of the morning pretending to work while I followed the rest of the events of the day. 

More planes hijacked.  The Pentagon.  A field in Shanksville.

Christ, how many more balls do these assholes have in the air?

It was inconceivable that all this could be happening, on this beautiful September day.  This shit just doesn’t happen here.

When word came that the towers collapsed, that was it.  I just sat in my cube, staring at nothing.  I didn’t know anyone in New York City, let alone anyone that worked at the WTC.  But it didn’t matter.  The radio reports were horrifying.  Untold thousands of innocent people just perished in terrible ways.  They were people that, like me, were just sitting at their desks or in airplanes, carrying out their day’s affairs.

There was some concern building about our own safety.  Baltimore is within easy flying distance of all the crash sites.  Ours is an 18-story building; not the tallest around by far, but still a possible target.

I also knew my parents were away from home and would need to be traveling again soon.  I wondered if they were OK and what would happen with them.

Around 3:00, we were given the option to go home and I jumped at it.  I spent the rest of the day glued to the TV.  I don’t think I even ate dinner that night.  I just stared at the film of the destruction, pondering the lives lost and letting the tears stream down my face.

I didn’t live through the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I wasn’t born for Pearl Harbor or D-Day or Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  This was my Big One; the one I’d remember forever, which would forever divide my time on earth between Before and After.

I soon learned that my folks were fine.  During the time when all flights were grounded, Dad rented a car and drove back to Green Bay.  I think they were in Georgia, so it was quite a trek.

I still have so many of the emails from the aftermath.  Most expressed this sentiment:

There were newspaper columns, editorial cartoons, pseudo-letters from President Bush to the Taliban or Osama bin Laden, and lots and lots of photoshops.

My favorite out of all of them was this one, which beautifully demonstrated both our communal sadness and steely resolve:

It’s unfortunate that this was the last time our country was united.  I’d say it lasted from September 12th to the day The Shrub took his eye off the ball and invaded Iraq, a country that actually had something we wanted.  It was like, “while we’re over there, we might as well pick us up some oil rights.”  Like it was just one big Middle Eastern grocery store… “While I’m here in Aisle 5, I might as well pick up some cheeze doodles in Aisle 6.”

Anyway, I digress…

I could have written this post last year, but I didn’t.  I knew I had some additional material to use but I wasn’t prepared to extract it just yet.  That has changed.

I’ve actually been up in The Towers before.

Back when I was married (cold chill runs down back) and living in Albany NY, we took a couple of weekend trips down to NYC.  In 1994, we mainly stayed around Midtown.  We did Time Square, Central Park, and went up in the Empire State Building. 

The next year, we spend a day in lower Manhattan, ferrying around the Statue of Liberty, taking the Ellis Island tour, and going up in the World Trade Center.

I was surprisingly moved by the close-up sight of the Statue of Liberty.  I was absolutely floored by the Ellis Island tour.  Three of my grandparents came through there and I had no idea how chaotic and frightening it must have been.  After the tour, I found the name of my mom’s grandfather on the long, winding “Immigrant’s Wall.”  My Uncle Joe had it put there back in the 70’s.

But the highlight of it all was going up in The Towers.  I had a new videotape camera then used it to shoot our whole trip.  That’s the “material” I had to unearth.  I wanted to find some of the selections and get them into electronic form.

Because I’m still pretty low-tech about my media hookups, I was reduced to playing the video on the TV and shooting the screen with my digital camera (in movie mode).  The quality isn’t the best, but it gets the job done.

First we went up to the observation deck on the 107th floor of the South Tower.  It was nice and safe and glassed in.  The funny thing was that whenever I pointed the camera at the antenna on the North Tower, I got a lot of buzzing feedback.

More from the observation deck:

After that, we took an escalator up to the outdoor rooftop of the South Tower.  That was the coolest part to me, because that’s where I saw the giant ape jump from one tower to the other in the shitty 1976 remake of King Kong.

They had an inner wall set back about 20’ from the edge of the building, so there was no way to have any “accidents”.  Even so, Future Ex was scared shitless up there.  She wouldn’t come anywhere near the inner wall.  She stayed back by the building doorway, clutching the wall like she was Spiderman.  Seriously.

Anyway, this footage is what I remember about The Towers… looking down at the ground so unbelievably far below.  And that what hurts the most; thinking about how bad it must have been in the building to make people think it was a better idea to jump out.

There are millions of stories from this day.  2996 of them end in tragedy.  Our country has yet to psychologically recover and it’s understandable.

It’s a thin margin between maintaining the freedom that makes this country what it is and protecting it so that this kind of abomination never happens again.  I don’t know if we’re up to it.  I know it will take more than burning books or thinking with one’s balls.  We can’t fix symptoms; we have to fix the roots.

Until that happens, we can never truly relax again.

30 comments:

  1. "Wow" leaves a whole lot of gray area there, Miley.

    "Wow", that's all you got on such an important day?"

    "Wow, you really need to learn how to shoot videos."

    "Wow, I can't believe they let you loose in NYC"...

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  2. "t's Pearl Harbor," said a zombie faced woman on our hotel elevator in Savannah. We thought she was drunk or stoned.
    "Are all the planes in/" she asked. We looked at each other, baffled, until we saw everyone in the lobby clustered around the tv in silence.
    We spoke little on the 20 hour drive home to Green Bay.
    "What kind of cowards would do such a thing," is all we could say.

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  3. I think everybody has a story about that day, it's just that few people can put theirs into words quite the way you did.

    Thanks for sharing yours with us.

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  4. We were in Prince Rupert, and woke up to the horror. Since the borders were closed, we could not get back to the states, even if we could have rented a car--which we could not! The flights were all cancelled. I was panic-stricken! All I could think about was getting back to my home and to my family. On that day, I knew our lives would never be the same.

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  5. When FDR spoke the words, "A date which will live in infamy", he had no idea how much those words would resonate with all of us on September 11, 2001.

    I think of the families who had loved ones on other planes that day and how they must have been waiting for word to see if those planes had also been hijacked. This did not just affect the families of those lost on that day. We all felt it.

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  6. Mary Ann,
    I was so relieved to learn that you weren't in the air that day. I wasn't sure, but I knew you were away.

    Dick,
    My Man! Long time no hear!
    Thanks for the kind words.

    Judie,
    Yeah, my folks were lucky they were still in country and could drive home... even if it was a very long drive.

    Christy,
    That's the truth. There's no one in the country that this didn't shake.

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  7. I left my office in Butler to drive home to Pittsburgh right after it happened. No cars on the road, only American flags---everywhere. It was a sight to behold on such a dreadful day. Thanks for the great post, bluz.

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  8. Wow, they let you loose...
    Wow, that's really high and I agree that it takes serious desperation to jump.
    Wow to the way your day went.

    I was at LSU, working. My boss came in late and had heard on the radio. We watched it all unfold on TV. The silence on campus that day and the rest of the week was unnerving. It was very "wow".

    Wow, our country hasn't fully recovered and wow, those families of all those people are still reeling.
    There's a lot of wow.

    Wow, your ex is more and more crazy each time you mention her.

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  9. Cher,
    It's unbelievable that people mobilized with the flags so quickly.

    Miley,
    Yes, I'm happy now. Of course that has a lot to do with OSU whipping up on Miami.

    Life does go on.

    OK, that's pretty cavalier of me. What I meant to say was thank you for the thoughts.

    Future Ex was a whack-a-loon. You have no idea. I haven't even scratched the surface of the crazy. But like I've said, it's too far past to really dwell on. I just bring up the funny (and odd) stuff.

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  10. I know there are alot of posts today about the events of 9/11, but somehow I am so drawn to reading about what everyone was doing when they heard the awful, God awful! news.
    Your post has so much to offer. Very good writing, I could have read more more more!

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  11. Sandra,
    Thanks for that.

    That's the thing though... there are so many stories and different takes on that day. Mine is just one more voice added to the chorus.

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  12. "We can’t fix symptoms; we have to fix the roots."

    So true. This was great - thank you for sharing your feelings. We all have our stories and voices, and I think that makes it all the more real - which it 100% is and should be. Always.

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  13. You know, V, that's the beauty of this web thing... we all have the opportunity to have a voice, should we choose to use it.

    And again, I'm sorry for the loss of your friend, in that clusterfuck 9 years ago today.

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  14. Great post. I was at the top of the towers less than a year before they fell. I remember sitting there watching the tv in utter shock. What a crazy, crazy day.

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  15. Thanks Jessica.

    You and me both. That's what I was thinking at the time... "I was up there... Now it's gone."

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  16. You story, being on the top of the towers kinda reminded me of being in New Orleans... at the convention center and in other areas the month before Katrina. That's really what my wow was. It was a "I can relate, just not to the specifics" :)
    You were trying to insert humor - it's all good :D

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  17. Miley,
    Well, yeah, that's what I do... try to make things funny.

    I remember being glued to the weather channel while Katrina was churning across the gulf. I was in Oregon with my parents for my buddy's wedding. My folks had just bought a house in Pensacola... hadn't even moved in yet, and the hurricanes were shooting across like pinballs.

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  18. My kids were 1 and 3 on 9/11. We were trying to watch TV to see what was going on but keeping them out of the room. I had just started working in downtown Pgh in July, and Mr. DG worked in the tallest building in town. It's hard to believe it has been 9 years already.

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  19. Still seems like it was just a couple years ago... Probably always will, to those that went through it, live or otherwise.

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  20. 9/11/01 - Had to stay home from work because the screw-drive garage door opener screw drove itself right into the wall. Couldn't open the garage door until the repairman made it down to fix it. Couldn't get the truck out of the garage.

    As a consequence I got to stay home and watch the whole thing unfold on TV. They say there was no air traffic after the planes crashed but it's not true. I live in the direct airpath from Washington to Camp David and the "underground Pentagon." Planes were flying over my house the afternoon of 9/11/01. Presumably jets searching for potential bad guys to shoot down??

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  21. I'm sure it took a while to get all those planes on the ground (I know it did on Season 7 of "24"), but I'm sure you're right. I certainly hope the sky over the Dog Pound was full of fighter jets looking for bogeys.

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  22. I had to wait a few days to read this, and even this morning, I wasn't positive I'd be able to. Thank you for sharing your story.

    I quit school because of where my brain went on that day. I, too, was glued to the tv afterward. I didn't know anyone directly affected, but the sheer fear and helplessness really did a number on me.

    My nephew (the first kid from any of my siblings) was born ON that day, about 5pm. His b-day will forever be clouded somewhat.

    On a lighter note, we better never meet in person - there are so many whackadoo things you say your ex did that I would probably do the exact same way. I love to fly and love the feeling of vertigo, but if I'd physically been up there, I'd've been doing the spidey thing, too, no question! I could barely look at your videos without literally backing up from the screen. We'll just stay friends where you can't witness my little quirks, k? :)

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  23. Cristy,
    I remember thinking about that at the time… “oh those poor people that had a birthday or anniversary today… how can they ever be happy on their Big Day again?” I hope your nephew will be able to get past it.

    I’m sure we would be great friends, whether it’s in person or otherwise. You don’t run around your back yard naked, do you?

    I don’t understand the wall thing in that circumstance. She didn’t have a problem looking out the glass… but on the roof, the restraining wall was still 15-20’ away from the edge. I don’t see the problem.

    One portion that I didn’t include in the clip was where I turned around to film Future Ex while she was clinging to the wall. She forced one hand up into a quick wave and immediately went back to grasping the wall, like she had suction cups on her palms.

    I eventually coaxed her out a little bit, but she was still pretty relieved when we went back inside.

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  24. Bluz, I'm not sure what amazes me more... the shit you have stashed away somewhere in your attic of basement, or the fact that you can still find it today. Have you have moved?

    We recently toured the 9/11 site. It's really just a construction site. But I was amazed by St. Paul's Episcopal Church right across the street. I'm talking RIGHT across the street. It became the care center for all the rescue and recovery workers. Each day, beds around the sancutary would be used and snoring became the only sound heard. Each day, volunteers would go in and chenge the bedding and place a small teddy bear on each bed. School children's art adorned the walls. Counselors would be there to help the workers deal. Today, several of the beds are still set up around the edges, and interfaith prayer services are held several times each day. I found it to be truly a holy place. Quite a different atmosphere from the shit storm the politicians have rasied over the mosque several blocks away.

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  25. Oh, I almost forgot. It's a historic church. George Washington went there during his presidency in New York City.

    In the aftermath of the collapse, the church was covered with dust and debris and they lost a few trees and tombstones in the graveyard out front, but nothing that day hit the building itself. As close as it was, that is amazing.

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  26. Bagger,
    I get teased about my ‘systems’ but they pay off in the long run. I label my video tapes, I know where they are (in general, if not specifically which shelf). Pinky is always after me about getting rid of stuff, but I function as my family’s archivist. I keep everything. In a 2-bedroom apartment. Someday, I hope to once again have the full Bluz Studios.

    As for the cartoons, I set up an Outlook folder right off the bat, so all the material I collected surrounding 9/11 went right there.
    St. Pauls really sounds like something! Indeed, that is hallowed ground.

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  27. Bluz - I don't know why it is, but those of us that are afraid of heights feel this really weird *urge* to jump or step over the edge. I think it's really interesting phenomenon that we all have it in common, but I've heard it tons of times, so I know I'm not the only one. It's like we have to physically hold ourselves back because we are afraid our bodies will go forward without our permission. It's almost physiological in nature. The glass is fine because there's something holding us back. I don't know. Weird.

    Carpetbaggery - That church sounds amazing.

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  28. I don't know about an "urge" to jump, but I understand that fear of toppling over. How many times have you thought about construction workers walking around up on beams? If you lay a girder on the ground, I bet anyone could walk right across it. Raise it a couple stories in the air and people are convinced they'll topple right over.

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