Like a lot of other bloggers, I'm here writing my recollections of the day in which the worst attack on American soil since 1865 occurred. I could write pages of florid prose, but because I know there's plenty of that in the traditional media and blogosphere, I'll give you the short version and share a piece of what I think is really good advice.
On that deceptively-balmy Tuesday morning a decade ago, I was in my bathroom getting ready to drive to an appointment in another city. I reached for my bathroom radio which was tuned to NPR's Morning Edition. The second I switched it on, I heard the announcer say that an airliner had just crashed into the world trade center. I immediately flashed on the July 28, 1945 accident in which an Army Air Force B-25 bomber hit the Empire State Building.
My phone rang. I raced into the living room to pick it up (cell phones were only for the well-monied back then). It was my friend who worked at a local TV station. He told me that a hijacked airliner had just hit the World Trade Center. We spoke for a few minutes, then I went back to the bathroom. A few minutes later my mother called confirming what my friend had just told me.
She had been in New York with her tour group only the day before.
I switched on my TV. The only station my non-cable household could receive without severe interference was the local CBS affiliate. Sure enough, there was Dan Rather, superimposed on a view of the twin towers, one of which was surrounded by thick black smoke. I don't recall if the second plane had hit yet or not.
Transfixed as I was, I knew I couldn't stay and watch. I had a three-hour drive ahead of me to see a medical specialist in Albany, and as it was I'd just make it. I took the only re-usable VHS videotape I had handy at the time, a half-hour program which I got in a piece of junk mail from the Mormon Church. I put a piece of masking tape over its erase-protect hole and shoved it into my VCR. I punched “record”, ran downstairs, locked up and jumped into my car.
My ears were glued to the local National Public Radio affiliate as I made the long drive. How, I thought, could a terrible disaster be occurring on a perfect fall day, under a blue sky with only a few fluffy white clouds in it, surrounded by green mountainsides?. I sat through about 90 minutes of their obviously-exhausted national news crew repeating what little facts were known apart from the initial attack, until another plane hit the other tower at which point the feelings of shock I felt back home in my bathroom slugged me in the gut again. After a while my local NPR affiliate started fading out. I couldn't find another one so I dial-surfed. I came upon a religious radio station from a town near Syracuse which was running a talk show. The conversation went something like this when I first tuned in:
Caller: “I've got a gun! Anybody who even looks like an Arab is goin' down!!!
Host: “Now, now. Mustn't be too impulsive.”
The host went on to say that the reason America had lost its former greatness and was now being picked on by evil men in turbans was because of people who launched balloons at anti-war rallies in 1970. Now, I had read about anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in the mainstream and underground press back in the day. I'd seen them on TV. (There weren't any demonstrations to speak of in my oh-so-Republican defense-industry hometown). Lots of things, some of them rather odd or even frightening, occurred at those demos, but I had never heard of or seen anyone launching balloons, something which was rather hard to do while carrying picket signs or with policemen swinging billy clubs at you.
At the clinic, I was informed that although my preliminary examination was still on, my actual surgery would have to be postponed indefinitely because my surgeon was stranded on the west coast because of the air travel ban. I remember sitting in the virtually-silent waiting room which was dominated by a TV tuned to CBS News which was playing a video of one of the hijacked planes hitting one of the twin towers over and over again. It was like a macabre conceptual art installation. Only a few people were watching. It had become visual Muzak, like those computer screen savers which look like an aquarium full of tropical fish.
Driving in that city was more difficult and much hairier than usual. It seemed like everyone had a case of road rage, or was it fear? The state capital was closed down with a state police car guarding many of the driveways to official buildings. What I remember most about that day was feeling...well, hollow, a combination of disbelief, plain shock and grief.
I still haven't watched the video tape I made that day..
Now that I've related an outline of my experiences on 9/11, here's how I plan to observe its tenth anniversary. I'm going to take a piece of advice offered this time last year by author and sex activist Susie Bright.
I'm going to ignore it.
I'm going to avoid all contact with the mass media. No TV, no newspapers, and no radio, not even NPR.
Don't I care about the people who were lost in the attacks of ten years ago? I sure as hell do. I lost a friend in those attacks. You cannot heal from a loss by reopening old wounds again and again, which incidentally is how some rather unsavory characters in Washington try to manipulate us.
Don't I care about my country? Damn straight I do. I'm concerned about things like the USA PATRIOT Act, misbegotten wars, police-state tactics under the banner of “homeland security”and other patently un-American things which certain Washington cynics have sold us for our own good.
I'm going to put on a CD or two or three. I'm going to take care of some long-neglected tasks around the house. Maybe I'll read a book.
I don't need to watch the outpouring of weepy sentimentality and empty or jingoistic rhetoric again. It's on every fall, kind of like the way The Wizard of Oz once played on TV every Thanksgiving. I think I know who the man behind the curtain is. I don't need to sniff the poppies. Or drink the kool-aid.
This story Creative Commons 2011 by The Fuddler. Non-comm., attrib., no derivs.