A Very Bad Day
The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was getting ready to go work on my Mom’s condo; she was about to sell it, and although it had quite recently been redecorated top to bottom, I had a lot of spit-polishing to do, even after laboring over it the previous weekend. Oddly for that hour, I got a call from my landlord, who had an office in the building and I usually saw before I left for work. He told me that both World Trade Center Buildings had been hit by planes, the second while he watched, and one had already collapsed.
I hung up. For the first time in my adult life, I wished I had a TV. Fortunately, Mom was going to pick me up in a few minutes, and I was glad I was going to her house, which had TV’s everywhere. On the way to her condo in Lake Oswego, Joan and I had quite a while to speculate about what happened, but barely spoke at all. As soon as we got inside, we both turned to the flashing screen.
The day was a blur of discordant images, some missed and only heard while I washed windows, cleaned rugs, and touched up paint. We marveled at the bravery and earnestness of then-local news reporter Ashleigh Banfield, who looked so determined (and perky) covered in poisonous ash, and both correctly assumed this day would make her career. We were both equally disdainful of President Bush to begin with, but his cowardly absence that day, when Laura (!) had to stand in for him while he, the fucking President, cowered on a plane made us both despise him afresh. We gaped in silence at the endless loops of video that showed jumpers and flames ad nauseam.
When it was time for lunch, we went to a nearby restaurant where, naturally enough, TV’s were all on and tuned to the local network affiliates. On the local news a reporter darkly intoned that the First Interstate Bank Tower (built as First National Bank in 1972, now Wells Fargo) had already been evacuated. Loudly, and to no one in particular, I said, “No bad seventies skyscraper is safe.” and Joan and the whole room cracked up in nervous (and relieved) laughter. We all felt safe in the leafy and strategically unimportant hamlet of Lake Oswego, Oregon, from whatever those dirty Habibs were up to.
Later, when we were back at Joan’s, Bush finally appeared, and although he quite admirably discouraged racist and vengeful feelings against Muslims as a group (a surprisingly civilized move that today would go over like a fart in church amongst Republicans….), he also strongly hinted that war(s) would ensue. I balked initially at the idea of a nascent desire for war amongst traumatized Americans, but a call a few hours later from my liberal little brother, who gloried in the idea of a military retaliation, set the tone for the debacle of the ensuing decade-plus.
Because of one terrorist attack over ten years ago, we’ve created a generation of young Americans (as well as converted older ones) into believing that the exact thing, our relentless militarism, that creates terrorism will somehow prevent it, and we cheer illegal war crimes and illegal government spying in equal measure; things we so recently considered anathema. That we can bomb and torture our way to safety. That we can start a Holy War and expect no casualties on our side. That we can ever give up enough of our hard-won civil liberties to be completely “safe.”
Yes, September 11, 2001 was a very bad day, but not in the way being so theatrically “remembered” today. It was a bad day in that it made it possible for a cadre of cuckoo, illegally empowered authoritarians to make all subsequent days immeasurably worse for the vast majority of the Earth’s inhabitants. Two “wave” elections and a new President later, we not only haven’t learned anything, but it seems we’ve also forgotten critically important things we used to know, before.
That’s the real tragedy of this day.