Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Five Years, Stuck On My Eyes

AH, NOTHING LIKE another 9/11 in the rearview mirror! Yes, another September 11th has come and gone, with both sides using that now institutionalized event to score political points. Never has the nation been so polarized, at least as far as I can remember. I was a young boy for most of the Vietnam War, and remained unborn for the nation's Civil War back in the day, so I cannot compare the self-inflicted vitriol or damage to the national psyche of those two conflicts with our present disastrous conflagration in the Middle East. We are now as a nation entrenched in our enmity and steadfast in our opinions and positions. Dug in, self-righteous and defensive.

I won't bore you right now with all my memories of that Tuesday in September five years ago, just a few thoughts. At shortly after 9:00 I got kicked off the N train at Canal Street, three stops before my Rector Street station, the conductor informing us that there was a plane crash. I found that extremely odd, and thought she misspoke and meant to say train crash. I debated waiting for another train, but after about 5 minutes, I decided I would walk the rest of the way to work. When reached the street, I noticed a steady stream of people heading uptown, while others were milling about in small groups, looking up and pointing at a fire raging on the top floors of a tall building. Someone said it was one of the World Trade Towers. At first I lingered a while, not knowing what to make of it, thinking how stupid the pilot had to be to crash into such a tall building. Then on my Walkman I heard that the Pentagon had also just been hit by a plane, and I remember saying, out loud but to no one in particular, People, we are under attack. I then found a pay phone on Lafayette Street and called work, no answer, called my mom to let her know I was all right, called Laine, and then started heading uptown, deliberately but not rushing, turning my head around as I walked every block or so to watch the flames get higher and the smoke get thicker, then heard a rumbling low moan, whereupon I looked back in time to see one entire building collapse like a giant cigarette being smoked down to the filter in one long angry draw, ashes spewing and hissing. That put a little more spring in my step as I headed toward the 59th Street Bridge, wanting nothing except to be off Manhattan Island as soon as possible and into the normalcy of Queens, the borough where nothing historical really happens. On the spur of the moment I stopped at Laine's house on 2nd Street. We watched the news for a while, then went out for a cup of coffee around the corner, before Laine went to donate blood and I continued uptown. Soon after, I remember hearing someone shout: "He said he was gonna do it and he did it! Oh man, this is the fucking chickens coming home to roost!" The man was smiling as he said it, and I dismissed him as just another New York street crazy, but later that afternoon when I got home and put the news coverage on, it dawned on me that the "he" in question was Osama Bin Laden.

the other night by flipping over to ABC's Path to 9/11 docudrama during an early lull in the Giants-Colts game and being unable to tear myself away from the movie for the next two hours or so. I had heard that the movie was being lambasted by Democrats for all the blame being leveled at the Clinton administration, but I couldn't deny the power of the narrative and the overall effectiveness of the film. The look of it for some reason reminded me of the movie Traffic at first, but the more obvious influence had to be the frantic pacing and disjointed camera work of TV's hit series 24. I was just hoping that the Bushies would not be spared when it was their turn at the helm. And sure enough, Condi Rice is rightly ridiculed for her cluelessness, making good use of the infamous August PDB that Michael Moore highlighted so brilliantly in Fahrenheit 911.

But as captivated as I was by the fictional account, for the most part I stayed away from the memorial services, the same clips of the same planes smashing yet again into the same twin towers. How many times have we all watched that footage by now? When is enough enough? Even at my local laundromat at around noon, the TV was tuned to cable channel NY1, and my MP3 headphones picked that moment to cease functioning, so I watched Bush laying wreathes, vowing to protect the country (but not, apparently, to uphold its constitution), meeting with firefighters...

One other thing. How unnerving was it to have the president give his address to the nation around one hour into part two of the movie last night? It was creepy to see how twitchy his hands were, mouthing the same old hackneyed phrases over and over again. Then after 20 minutes the movie resumes, giving the whole evening an unsettling feeling of 1984-like telescreen propaganda, such that you wish the great George Orwell himself was around to chronicle the surreal political landscape we are forced to endure on a daily basis here in Bush Country.

I was glad to have off yesterday. Not that I'm more paranoid than the next fella, but if I didn't have to be on a train yesterday, then no sense tempting fate. Of course, now that I no longer work in the financial district, mere blocks from Ground Zero, I don't get the whoosing flood of memories from that day and its immediate aftermath bringing it all back home. For two weeks or so after the attack I couldn't bring myself to get back on the train to go to work. We were off the rest of that week -- the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday immediately following 9/11. So when it came time to return to work the following Monday, I hopped on my trusty Trek 2300 and peddled there, riding over the Pulaski Bridge that connects Long Island City, Queens to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, then over the Williamsburg Bridge to South Street and lower Manhattan to my office on the 9th floor of 67 Wall Street, wearing an air filter over my mouth whenever I was in range of the horrible burning stench that would envelop the entire region for many more weeks and months to come. I finally was able to get back on the subway a couple of weeks later, wearing my American flag button to show my solidarity with my fellow countrymen...

On September 8, 2001, a Saturday, me and Steve had tickets to Stiff Little Fingers, the legendary Irish punk band, at the Village Underground. Before the show we went to a nearby pub to get a pre-show buzz on. We were met there by Steve's friend Gavin Mcmahon, who he knew from the insurance biz. Gavin was attending his 60th or 61st Stiff Little Fingers show (for me and Steve, this was only our second SLF show), and he bought rounds of drinks for us, telling us of great SLF concerts from years past, reminding us that they don't play certain songs anymore, like the incendiary Gotta Gettaway, because ... well, just because they no longer can stand behind the sentiment of certain songs they wrote back when they wore younger, more naive emotions on their sleeves. Gavin worked for Aon Insurance, and his office was on the upper floors of one of the World Trade towers. I remember telling his girlfriend that night what a generous, friendly guy he was, buying drinks for everyone, treating me like a long-lost friend... He never made it out of the tower when the planes hit less than three days later. I think about Gavin a lot.

FOUND MYSELF BEHIND ENEMY LINES at Shea Stadium on Saturday morning. My friend had an extra ticket, and so me and Tony, his son Mike and a friend arrived early to the park in scenic Flushing, Queens on what turned out to be Shoulder Bag Day, with every fan getting a free garish blue nylon carry-all thingy with Mets and Verizon prominently emblazoned across the sides, which did come in handy as a seat cushion. The bonus for a lifelong Yankees fan like me was discovering that Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez was that day's hurler for the Metropolitans versus the Dodgers, he of the Rockettes-like high leg kick and past playoff glories when he manned the same position for the more heralded New York team of which I am a proud partisan. It's a given that Mets fans are supposed to hate the Yankees, and vice versa, but despite the Mets' unbelievable success this year, it's hard to root against them even as a Yankees fan, because they display very little of the arrogance of their last very good team, 1986, and indeed have enough solid players and citizens that make begrudging their success a last option only. It begins with their manager, Willie Randolph.

Willie was my favorite player when he wore uniform #30 and anchored those storied late 1970s Yankees teams of my formative adolescent years at second base, so much so that I chose #30 for my high school football jersey. How can you root against Willie? The same goes for guys who play the game the right way like David Wright and Carlos Delgado and even our old Boston nemesis, Pedro Martinez. So I found myself surrounded by Mets fans and, if not caught up in the late summer Shea enthusiasm, at least not actively rooting against them for this glorious September day at the ballpark, while reserving the right to express my anti-Mets sentiment later as a natural birthright of all diehard Yankees fans. Best line from a fan in our section was directed toward Dodgers pitcher Greg Maddux, winner of over 300 games and a surefire Hall of Famer: "Maddux likes men!" some wiseass screamed in the direction of the far-off pitcher's mound. And we got to hear The Clash's London Calling blaring from the needlessly loud, tinny Shea Stadium PA. Oh yeah. The Mets won 3-2, with Hernandez pitching like the El Duque of old, Delgado going yard and Wright predictably getting the winning hit.

Made it to the beach again Sunday morning. For some reason, my friend Tom brought his portable TV to catch the early NFL action, although I could have done without his attention dangerously split between the road and the game being played in small scale on the TV perched precariously atop his beverage cooler and being held in place by Tom and his brother Rich riding shotgun as we headed to Rockaway. I mean, the Cowboys weren't on till 4:00, so why do we need to chance killing ourselves to catch a play or two of the fucking Jets or Eagles games? I didn't say anything because Tom is, well, a little eccentric shall we say and you have to kind of take the whole package with friends sometimes. This is a man who brought his portable TV to a live game when we went to Dallas to catch the Cowboys. You are at the game! They have a fucking scoreboard for replays! So why are you watching a game that you are attending on a tiny television screen! It's like going to a U2 concert while listening to one of their CDs on your iPod. Makes not even a little bit of sense. Then we're on the beach and he's trying to get better reception. Finally I said, hey, let's forget about that and play some catch here. Let's live in the moment, people. When I am the voice of reason, you know something is out of whack.

Of course, getting home from the beach and watching my beloved 'Boys losing their opening game to the Jacksonville Jaguars went a long way to ruining my weekend. But one thing I learned from a misspent adulthood watching football is that you can't overreact to the first game, win or lose; the season is too long to draw conclusions from one game in a 16-game slate. That said, I did not like what I saw from Drew Bledsoe. He was like a pitcher getting lit up for 4 home runs on opening day. You have to be a little concerned for the 3 picks he threw, his disturbing penchant for repeatedly missing wide open receivers, and his deer in the headlights demeanor that was worrisome for a 14-year NFL veteran. Terrell Owens was better than advertised, getting his first TD out of the way, and Julius Jones showed some flashes. But too many penalties, a very poor effort by LT Flozell Adams, and a defense that simply didn't live up to its preseason billing made for a hard to stomach opening game loss. The good news is the Giants and Redskins also both lost, so we sit tied at 0-1 for the year with those teams, one game behind the 1-0 Eagles. One more similar poor performance by Bledsoe and I think Bill Parcells will be hard-pressed not to make a QB switch and go with soon-to-be-famous Tony Romo. You heard it here first.

See also:

Massively Relevant
Free Fallin' Down
Drumbeat of Deceit

Condemned to Repeat
More Madness
Freedom IS Authority
Donnie We Hardly Knew Ye

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