Sunday, September 11, 2011
--I REMEMBER IT VERY, VERY WELL
I was on the way to work, of course I was.
It was early, as usual, around six-thirty as I recall.
Starbucks was packed. It always was/is. (Every single Starbucks in every location is always busy.)
Things felt normal.
There was a maw of conversation mixed with some innocuous/pretentious jazz playing through overhead speakers. No one seemed manic in their discussions. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Rich people were just forking over money for stupidly-priced coffee and not minding waiting in line to do so. One lady, a neighbor, held her toy poodle at her fake breasts, while wearing a chincilla coat even though it was not chilly.
I ordered a tall-double-skinny-nonfat-no foam-latte.
I didn’t get any food.
I was in a hurry.
I was wearing a suit that morning. Gray window pane. Lavender shirt with a purple tie and natty grape pocket square. Salesman brown shoes and matching belt. (I cared about those things back then. I was a lot dumber back then.)
My car was a red Saab, 900s with a black rubber spoiler. (See?) There wasn’t a cup holder, so I had to drop my latte precisely into place, into the plastic divot molded into the stick shift. I had to do so without spilling any of the boiling brew and thus having the electrical controls lock up on me.
I’ve never been a person who listens to the radio. I absolutely love music, but I hate the radio and all those inane disc jockeys and the really awful radio advertisements that try too hard to get your attention.
But for whatever reason, on 9/11 of that year I was listening to the radio.
The announcer, the newscaster, I think it was Tom Brokaw, sounded unsure and nervous. He said something like, “It appears there’s been an accident at The Twin Towers.”
He described the smoke.
As he kept talking, more and more fear crept into his voice. He became a human instead of a News guy.
And this made me afraid…
By the time I parked and got to work, everyone at the office was huddled in a cubicle, wherever there was a miniature TV.
By the time I got to work, the other tower had been hit.
No one had yet mentioned Washington, DC or Philadelphia.
There was enough hysteria.
Both towers toppled. Melted.
The TV said it was unbelievable.
I thought so, too.
They showed footage of planes crashing into buildings.
They showed the scenes over and over and over and over.
My administrative assistant broke down crying.
What did I do?
I went out into the store. I saw one of my bosses. He said we weren’t closing the store early like everyone else was doing, all of our competitors. He said, this isn’t that big of a thing. Then we talked about music and hot new bands.
All the while my administrative assistant kept paging me and I kept ignoring them, because, well, I was having an intimate conversation with my boss whose name is one all of the buildings and stores in the company that I worked for.
There are things we regret. I regret that day for all sorts of reasons. I regret my lack of understanding and my inability to grasp what the fuck was happening. I regret ever opening any of our stores that day. I regret my conceit and arrogance and who I was.
9/11 is hard for me. I know it’s worse for many people, but I really do think about it often, almost too often. It amazes and confounds me. I find it hard to believe that it actually happened, not unlike the Holocaust.
I remember driving home and seeing hundreds and hundreds of miniature American flags dotting lawns or taped to trucks and cars.
I also remember the eerie feeling when a few weeks afterward, I first saw a plane in the sky, flying fairly low, across the skyline near the space needle. It was very unsettling to say the least.
A few months following 9/11, some bold people made a documentary about it, voiced over by Robert Deniro. I wanted to teach my daughter the significance of the event. She was nine. Most of the time—while people were hurling themselves off of the buildings and you could hear (honestly) the thud of their bodies, she kept remarking about how pretty the sun looked on the glass.
Here’s a story I wrote about that, which appeared in the “G6 Anthology” edited by Lydia Davis.
Sometimes it happens this way, with him driving 1-90 to work, seeing a plane floating low over Union Bay, toggling between buildings and it’ll catch him unaware and he’ll remember stopping at Starbucks that September morning, the newscaster’s baritone tremulous and uncertain, him and everyone thinking hoax, thinking Orson Wells, and then later that night, thinking Armageddon and Satan.
Many days afterward there was a Robert Deniro documentary and he thought this could be a teaching moment for Hailey, his young daughter, with whom he had custody on weekends.
He made cocoa with mini marshmallows and once they became soupy Lilly pads Hailey plucked their white guts with her little girl fingers and drew letters across his cheeks.
On the television the buildings simmered and smoldered, sirens shrieked, people leapt and bodies thumped. They’d left none of the horror or death out, and while he knew he should have switched the channel, he couldn’t, riveted as he was.
When the program finished, his daughter turned to him with a yawn and asked if he could read her a story.