Friday, September 11, 2009

Nine Eleven, UPDATED

I guess this is a day of reminiscence.

On 9/10 I had a melanoma removed from my side. It wasn't a serious operation. It was at Northshore hospital, with anesthesia that put me out, but I walked out around noon, woozy but standing. The surgeon, a Korean woman who looked to be around 12 years old, told me to stay home the rest of the week. But at that point I was working out of an the District 14 Multimedia office at PS 84 in Williamsburg and didn't have to teach, so I went in, still a little spacey, on that beautiful Tuesday. My partner, Maria, suggested we go to breakfast at a place on Bedford Ave.

We were just finishing breakfast when the waiter came over with the check and said a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I figured it was something like a small plane that lost its way. Soon after he told us a second plane had hit the building. My first reaction was that they had collided with each other first. "No. It's terrorists," said Maria. I laughed.

We walked the two blocks to the East River and watched the smoke stream out of the buildings. "My God, I think people are jumping," Maria said. I didn't believe her. I don't know how she saw that because I didn't. Of course, she was right.

We watched for a while and she suggested I go back to the office and grab a video camera. It took me some time to get it set up. On the way back to the river, people on the roofs started screaming, "It fell down." When I got there a few minutes later, there was only a puff of smoke where the building had been.

I shot about 5 minutes of video but just couldn't go on. (I still have it somewhere, but have never looked at it.) We went back to the office to watch it on TV. One of the teachers' husbands worked around there and she hadn't heard from him directly, though one of his co-workers told her (before the building came down) he was all right but had gone down to watch. Of course she was extremely upset, but had to try to hide it with a group of special ed kids in front of her.

It was clear the other one was going to come down too. I couldn't watch and went back to my office. About 1PM I was out in the hall when I saw the teacher's husband, who had walked all the way over the bridge, come down the hall. She ran out of her room and they just hugged and hugged.

I drove home that afternoon. The Belt Parkway was empty. And I mean empty. It seemed that it was closed as I saw no cars. And this was around 4pm. I was flipping the radio dial to get as much information as I could, but still spent the most time on my favorite station, WFAN, where Mike Francesa did as good a coverage as was possible for hours. I was feeling real tired and woozy from the operation and hit the sheets when I got home in a semi dreamlike state, still not sure if I had come out of my operation yet.

Francesa is talking about it now. I forgot that Dog wasn't there. Mike was on the air until later in the evening, with Charles McCord there with him most of the time. Now my memory is coming back about why that coverage was so good between the two of them. They both brought so much to the table, with Mike making many guesses about what was going on using his intuition and intelligence. He also talked about his trip home where he didn't see one car on the road.

I remember meeting a first year teaching fellow a few months later. Her school faced the city and when moving her class they could see the towers burning. Having recently gone through a traumatic personal experience, that sight froze her and she freaked and panicked. This was the first few days of the school year. The administration at her school was always notoriously oppressive and came down on her. Hard. They took away her class and gave it to another fellow and it just about ended her career as a teacher, though she hung on at the school as a sub for the rest of the year.

While I'm updating, I want to make a point about the relevance of that day to our history in comparison to other events in history. I was moved in recent trips to London at what it must have been like in the blitz in WWII. This went on for a long time, sometimes every night with lots of people dying, mostly civilian. How does that play compared to nine eleven?

There are lots of factors in why that one day had such an impact. Maybe it was because it was one day. Imagine if there were a 9/11 every day for years? No one day would stick out. Or maybe just the nature of the act and what was behind it, though the terror of Hitler's war machine was not light stuff. But every time 9/11 comes up I can't help reviewing walking the streets of London trying to imagine the terror of the bombers coming every night. America has never experienced anything like it and should try to keep things in perspective.


  1. Why does 9-11 have to be compared to the Blitz and why should America "try to keep things in perspective"?

    Try telling that to any parent that loses a child.

    Tragedies (and both are) don't have to be compared to each other or put into "perspective". Poor choice of words Norman. I really liked your account of the day until I read your last paragraph.

    It was a very sad day and I hope to never experience anything like it ever again in my life.

  2. It was the worst day of a lot of people's lives. But imagine having that happen day after day with the threat if invasion by Hitler hanging over you and with all of Europe under the Nazis and Britain all alone? It is astounding and if we really think of it way beyond that one day experience here.

    Americans tend all too often to neglect historical perspective and it is one of the reasons people around the world dislike us so much.

    I have to admit, I am not a flag waving patriot.

    But why not compare it? How did the parents on D-Day feel who lost so many sons? DO you know how many people were slaughtered in the Civil War? One battle I think maybe 50,000 died. And so many have died because of incompetent military and political leaders.

    It is a matter of having empathy with others. Something bothers me in the American attitude on this. I used to hear arguments about whether the Jewish holocaust or the Black holocaust of slavery was worse. In fact both were awful.


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