Over the Labor Day weekend, I reread the RNC edition of New York Magazine (I posted a link to the issue in August). I had had the magazine for weeks, but neglected to read all of it, because I first went to work the crossword puzzle at the back of the magazine, a habit I inherited from my dad. Anyway, I came across an article I had only skimmed, but this time read in depth. I couldn't help but to agree with the author. It was validating, this article, because it made me realize that it's OK to be a bit selfish. Some things are so personal, it's completely human to at least make an attempt to make it yours alone, or, in this case, the city's. The article centers around Sheri, a young Republican from the Tampa Bay area, and her mother, Reatha, who, with the support of their Southern Baptist pastor, were preparing to visit our city for the RNC. Sheri had won some essay contest sponsored by some big corporation, MTV I think, and one of the themes in her essay was saving herself for marriage. This is not uncommon these days in the south, but what is very uncommon about Sheri is that she refuses to kiss a guy until marriage. I'd like to meet the man who'll stick around so long just for a kiss! Here's an excerpt from the article:
"The closest we got was driving by [New York City]. We were going 60 miles an hour but still locked the doors and windows." This time, Sheri and Reatha agreed, would probably be more fun........Beyond that, there were a lot of suggestions about what Sheri and Reatha should do in the Big Apple. While the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty were pretty cool, everyone agreed the city's "No. 1 attraction" was Ground Zero.
"Right," Sheri said. "That place belong to all Americans."
This was the commentary that tried the resolve of even the most committed New York City missionaries. Because I didn't feel like Ground Zero belonged to "all Americans," certainly not the sort of "all-Americans" who took it as a moral imperative to keep George Bush in the White House. Ground Zero belonged to New York, to the people who died there and their families, to those who rode the F train every morning and never once looked at the skyline without noting the absence of those not particularly beloved buildings looming over the Brooklyn Bridge.....
.....Yet I begrudged them thier emotion, their sense of outrage that 9/11 had been an attack on them, too, a thousand miles from the half-empty firehouse of Squad One. Perhaps it was provincial - should only Hawaiians have been pissed about Pearl Harbor? - but it bothered me that 9/11 had redefined the city in the minds of those who hitherto would have agreed with John Rocker's assessment ofthe 7 Train.
What bothers me most of all is that the extent of Sheri's and her momma's outrage on 9/11 was probably "Poor New York and Washington. Thank God it's not us." The fact that they think about Ground Zero as the City's "No. 1 attraction", as if it were the Wonder Wheel, really bothers me. In this case, the fact that Sherri is Republican is not what I base my opinion on. It's the fact that people so ignorant, blatantly so, as her, her mother and her friends cast judgement on things as tangible and real as cities that they know nothing about, and what's a thousand times worse, I bet they never even tried to learn anything about this city, let alone the rest of the North. It depresses me that people that ignorant are the ones that will try to punish the rest of us on Election Day and put Bush back in office, just because we are those damn Liberals who try to remind them that the way they want the country run goes against just about every principle upon which this country was founded, and that the United States was not meant to become big business. I don't think we are the provincial ones here. I always thought that "provincial people" are those that hesitate to come out of their little worlds and give a thought to what's going on in, say, Cuba, which is only 90 miles away from Key West, probably another two hours or so to Sheri's hometown, and with whom America has a very long and negative history. Maybe they weren't taught that the US has directly or indirectly attacked or at least messed with almost every Latin American country, as well as the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, and that you have to be careful what kinds of things you take pride in and what kind of people you put up on a pedestal. But I can make a very safe bet that these types have never bothered to crack a book about, let alone sympathize with, anyone who doesn't have the same background and color as them. I bet little Miss Sheri has no clue who Cesar Chavez, Leonard Peltier or Martin Luther King, Jr. were, that the Holocaust killed over 6,000,000 Jews, or the importance of the civil rights struggle, or what's up with that Indian girl buying toothpaste at her local Walgreens.
I was talking to my dad a couple of nights ago, and the subject turned to 9/11. I mentioned that PBS had started its bombardment of documentaries about 9/11, which they ran last year, and will probably run every year at the approach to the anniversary. On that night, I had watched a program about the Air Force who, alerted to the hijackers way too late, tried in vain to shoot down the hijacked planes, and the guilt that some of the pilots still felt. After that, I watched the survivors tell their stories on another show. I got really cold for a few minutes, and I always get chills and I can feel tears coming, although they never come, whenever I see footage of the attacks. I suspect that that will always happen. "I'm so tired of 9/11," Dad says to me. "Aren't you?" I paused for a couple of minutes, because just then, footage of the plane going into the north tower flashed on the screen, and I heard the people screaming, I thought of my friend Sivie among the throngs of people who worked in the Towers and nearby running to safety, and I watched the goosebumps prickle on my arms and legs. "Are you there? he asked. "I wish I could have the luxury of being tired of 9/11," I answered.
The fact is, I had been unemployed since June of that year, and was snug in my bed that morning. I was so sound asleep I didn't even hear the phone ring when my stepfather called from D. C. to ask me and my mom, who was up for a visit, Thank God, if we were OK, and warn us that the WTC was under attack, and that we should get ready to evacuate. He called probably during the minutes that the plane went in to the first tower and the other into the second tower. My mom didn't wake me up, probably because she still wanted to protect me from seeing bad things, like when I was a little girl, but I did wake up as soon as the Pentagon was hit, I don't remember exactly what time. The TV was already on, and when I saw the explosion, the first person I thought of was my dad, who lived in a building a little less than a quarter mile from the Pentagon. I thought of the right wing of that plane and how it had probably passed about 50 feet or so from my dad's end of the building. Since he first had his stroke 8 years earlier, he was paralyzed on his left side from the neck down, and the muscles were still very stiff, so he would have to walk with a special cane for the rest of his life. Who would help him evacuate? Who would be nice and strong enough to carry him down seven floors? Little did I know that he, he told me on the phone three hours later, was also snug in his bead, smothered in pillows, the way he always liked to sleep. He had woken up at around noon, went directly about his routine, showered, dressed, sat in his easy chair in front of the TV, and read his paper and drank his glass of OJ before he switched on the news. He had seen the smoke coming from the Pentagon outside his window and was concerned, but didn't see what happened until he snapped on CNN. "I know it's awful, just depressing. But I knew you were OK, after all, you live clear on the other side of the island, right?" " I guess," I answered, listening for any strange sounds outside.
Three years later I still have to think about it everyday. Most New Yorkers do, and if they don't, they should check that they are not brain-dead. I remember a pinata that I went to in Guatemala when I was 8. I wondered why there were heavily armed soldiers on the streets and at the party, and why my grandfather and uncles carried guns almost everywhere they went. It turned out that it was the height of Guatemala's civil war, and it was all about watching what you said and making sure the death squads didn't get to you first. As a kid, nobody told me anything, and I learned that years later when I was reading a book assigned in my Spanish class. In any case, I never thought that would happen here, after all, we are a civilized country. So you can imagine that the image of that party and those soldiers go through my mind every time I enter Grand Central for lunch and see our soldiers (same guys, different country, as far as I am concerned) with their dogs every hundred feet or so. Just when I think this is over, the "Terror Alert-ometer" goes a different color, and the 7 train I'm on is stopped for 20 minutes because we were passing the Citibank building in Long Island City, and some Mullah on some tape that Al-Jazeera had gotten hold of said that his buddies were planning to finish off New York's financial insititutions, and cops and huge bomb-sniffing dogs have to inspect the train's cars. Funny how I always think of the dogs, and how it must suck for them to know that they will die as bomb-sniffers and that will be all they did with their lives.
So no, I am not tired of 9/11. I can't be. It's part of my life now, and yields the same emotion everyday, albeit small. It remains like a traffic jam or a part of my walk to the subway, like my morning coffee. It's ingraining itself into the architecture. It pinches me in the arm and asks me to reconsider getting on the subway. I know that in a few years I won't think about it so much. Eventually, we'll all know the tricks, we'll have a President who doesn't remind us to be afraid for our lives every minute of every day, and we'll know the difference between a threat and mere manipulation.