M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Wednesday, September 11, 2002  

There’s a guy who collects misheard song lyrics in books. One of them contains somebody’s misinterpretation of “Love Bites” by Def Leppard. Sing along with me; you know the words:

Love bites, love bleeds.
It’s bringing me to my knees.
Love bleeds, love bites.

And so on. Except somebody had always thought that the words were:

The price of beans:
It’s bringing me to my knees
The beans! The price!

There was even a drawing of someone throwing a wobbler in the produce aisle while a more financially and emotionally stable fellow shopper looked on. Trash and I always thought of that when we heard the song on the radio, which is probably why we left it on that morning, singing along about extortionate legume wholesalers. We were feeling smug. Our ten-year wedding anniversary was three days away. Wing Chun was planning to run my second Hissyfit the next day. We were excited for our friend Laure, who was moving to New York that coming weekend. It was warm and sunny. Life was good. We’d just stopped off to vote in the mayoral primary and were feeling all self-congratulatory about having participated in democracy when the song on the radio came to an abrupt end.

“I guess they were done,” we observed archly. Yeah, they were. Because the DJs were cutting in to say—

Well, this was a year ago today, so you already know what they were cutting in to say.

All they knew was that one plane had hit one tower. They had a picture, and they described the smoke coming out. They wondered how big the plane had been. They wondered how such an accident could have happened. By the time I dropped Trash off at her office, the second plane had hit and it wasn’t an accident any more.

“Be careful,” I told my wife as she got out of the car. I didn’t know how she was going to do that, and neither did she, but she said it back to me.

I stopped for gas on my way to work. The irony escaped me at the time, but I didn’t know what I know now. I filled the tank with my car radio on and the door open so I could hear what was happening. Then I hurried to work.

Our office has a video wall with four large screens. Two of them are always tuned to CNBC and Headline News, partially so we can track market developments, but mainly because it impresses potential clients. By the time I arrived, a group of my coworkers were already standing there. Watching the smoke and the fire. Watching the plane hit. Watching it again. Watching it some more. The video wall doesn’t have sound; it doesn’t even have closed captioning. For once, we didn’t need it. The images were speaking for themselves. I switched the screens over to CNN and the Big Three.

I remember seeing the World Trade Center in person for the first time from the New Jersey side. Just like that shot in the opening credits of The Sopranos. My family and I were driving into Manhattan to spend the day. We took the subway to within a couple blocks of Central Park and went from there. I got a closer look at the Twin Towers from the sidewalk outside the Empire State Building. They seemed impossible. We walked a few blocks further south, and I think that’s as close as we got. I hoped to go up to the top one day. This was in May of 2001. They’ve now been gone for three times as long as they existed after I saw them.

When the first tower came down, I remember the horror and shock and grief, the unreality of it. And I remember thinking how strange it was going to be in a few months when the World Trade Center had only one tower. Obviously, that wasn’t the case even an hour later.

Nobody got much work done that day. I sat at my desk listening to the radio as confused and confusing reports poured in, both true and false. The attack on the Pentagon. The car bomb at the State Department. The plane going down in Pennsylvania, and another one near Camp David. The plane over Texas that wasn’t responding to attempts to communicate. Skyscrapers in every city in America being evacuated. Some wiseass getting arrested for signing into an office building’s security register as “Osama bin Laden.” Just like in New York, the sky here that day was clear and bright, but the ground was bucking beneath our feet. We were under attack, and it didn’t seem to be ending. I was relieved to see the sun set that night and I was relieved to go to bed. But I wasn’t relieved to wake up on the morning of the twelfth, because when I did the previous day had still happened.

It’s been a year of what ifs. What if the FDNY had radios that worked? What if the fighter jets had gotten there in time to shoot down the passenger planes? What if they had done it? What if someone fell through a timewarp and found themselves in Logan Airport at five in the morning? Could they have stopped it? What if there hadn’t been an attack? What would the Taliban be doing now? Would we be seriously talking about invading Iraq?

I thought about going quiet today, because really, who the hell am I? I wasn’t on the East Coast that day; I didn’t lose anyone; it turned out I wasn’t ever in any danger; a missing friend turned up a few days later, and Sars wasn’t seriously hurt; and I don’t live or work in New York or New Jersey and thus don’t have to look every day at that hole in the skyline. I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said a thousand times already by smarter people than I. I don’t have any answers, and even if I did, nobody who needs to listen would.

I don’t know. The same part of me that hoped we would only have to live in our dangerous new world for a day is still hoping that we only have to live in it for a year. Just like I felt for the first week, the first month, the first six months after the attacks. A certain amount of time would pass, a nice round number, and everything could go back the way it was. Some things have, for a lot of people, in big ways and small. And a lot of things haven’t. From the sub-trivial, like the fact that I’ll never hear “Love Bites” the same way as long as I live, to the enduring tragedy of the people who had to say goodbye that morning, and the people who didn’t get a chance to.

A year and a day ago, the words “September Eleventh” meant about as much as “March Twenty-Eighth” or “June Third.” Now they’ve taken on a totemic significance. For the first time since that nightmare, September Eleventh is today. It feels weird to be walking around in it; it’s like a temporal version of Ground Zero.

Probably because that’s exactly what it is.

I don’t know what else to say, except this: be careful.

posted by M. Giant 5:54 AM 0 comments


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