Thursday, September 10, 2009

Closed Doors

Everyone in New York has his/her September 11th story. Happily, mine includes no tragedy. My upstairs neighbor worked down there and had people falling onto his head. I just ripped my favorite pants hitting the deck in a gun scare at the grocery store across the street.

Once Buzz Kill could get through on the cell phone, he said we might have twenty people who staying over who couldn't get home. Being from the Gulf Coast, I knew about hurricane parties so I went to the store to lay in some supplies. There were cops all over the place, jet fighters circling the neighborhood and everyone was understandably nervous. The bus stop was right outside the door to the store back then, and just as I was going into the store, a crowd of folks got off the bus. One of the pedestrians thought somebody with a gun went into the grocery store and told the cops.

I was looking for margarita mix when the announcement came over the PA to get down on the floor. I ducked behind a big stack of cases of beer. The patch pocket on my khaki capri pants got caught on a long neck. It was a false alarm about the gun. I wound up talking to one of my neighbors whose daughter worked in one of the towers but had been at the dentist. I discovered my favorite pants were ripped later. George W would have blamed that damage on the terrorists, too.

Velvet was at the office with Buzz Kill and Vagina Dentata. As it happened, Buzz Kill's office was only a few blocks away from Velvet's school - far away from home down in mid-town. That morning, Buzz Kill and the handyman from his building were up on the roof looking at the first tower when the second plane hit. Buzz Kill dropped the binoculars and went straight to the school. No matter how many nasty things I say about him, Buzz Kill is a dedicated, fiercely protective father. While they were walking up Fifth Avenue, He told Velvet not to look back so Velvet didn't see the smoke. Thank G*d they were far enough away so that he couldn't have seen the people jumping from the windows. I always had the feeling that if it weren't for Buzz Kill, Velvet might have turned to salt just like Lot's wife that day.

Eventually they walked home, bringing Vagina Dentata with them. Buzz Kill's friends walked home over the bridges, so I didn't have 25 for dinner after all. Tons of people walked miles and miles home that day. Vagina Dentata wanted to watch the planes crashing endlessly on CNN, but I made her turn off the TV. As it happened, Velvet was the only kid in his grade who never saw the news reports. I never believed little kids need to watch the sensationalist crap that passes for news anyway. Little kids have enough trouble making sense of the world without some fool on the local news talking about murder, mayhem and parents abusing their children. The news sucked especially hard on September 11 and in the weeks that followed.

As soon as planes were allowed to fly again, the paper where my brother worked in Texas rented a little jet to fly a crew of reporters and photographers up here. The flight plan wasn't filed perfectly, so the Air Force forced their plane down in Georgia. My brother said that was weird, but he got some interesting photos. Before my brother and them got to the city, Buzz Kill had been to the neighborhood hardware stores to get heavy duty respirator masks like the carpenters wear for the team. When the store owners heard the masks were for journalists at the site, they gave Buzz Kill everything for free. Like I said, Buzz Kill's best self was showing.

That's the kind of stuff I like to remember about September 11th: hundreds of little, shining instances of people showing their best selves. Of course the political shit storm hit instantaneously. It's all history now even though some things still feel fresh - like the checker at the liquor store in Texas my sister-in-law heard talking to her friend about that movie on TV with the airplanes (she's probably been at town meetings this summer). And how people were saying we brought the attack upon ourselves. Even then I recognized the validity in that statement, but it was damn hard to hear when everywhere you went, people were posting flyers about missing loved ones. Americans may be assholes, but nobody deserves that.

Looking at a fence full of flyers with pictures of The Lost, it doesn't matter who was ultimately behind the September 11th attacks. Maybe the Bushes and the Bin Ladens did it themselves. Or maybe it was Mossad or the CIA. Or maybe it was Al-Qaeda and the Taliban like everyone thought in the first place. In the end, nobody deserved that shit. Nobody deserves most of the shit that happens every day in this world. That's why I try to remember the shining little moments when we show our higher selves - which is much easier when you work as a shepherd of very young children.

This morning, a couple of the other teachers and I are headed out to Long Island to buy classroom materials by the pound: buttons and ribbon scraps, corks and carpet swatches. We're going to Ikea, too, to get some knock-off Brio trains and miniature kitchen ware. The art teacher is leading this expedition. It's an appropriate September 11th project since we're doing our bit to make the world a better place in our progressive little school in a building we like to think stands as a beacon of hope and peace on a hill overlooking the Hudson.

Martin Luther King preached against the Vietnam War at our church. Nelson Mandela addressed the nation in a celebration welcoming him to America. And our former preacher stood in the pulpit and declared that if George W. Bush actually knew anything about Christianity, he wouldn't launch a preemptive strike against anyone. Bill Moyers is a member. I used to attend regularly, but then Vagina Dentata started tagging along - in hats big enough for the Lord to see her from Heaven on Sunday. It wasn't fun anymore after that. She's gone back to Unity at Lincoln Center now, but I'm not in a rush to go to Church.

At the time, it was part of my campaign to prevent Velvet from becoming a Bible thumping adolescent. You don't see many of them on the Upper West Side, but there were plenty of Bible thumping teenagers in Texas and the Midwest where I grew up. The last thing I wanted was some damn kid telling me I was going to Hell in my own living room all because I never took him to Church. It seemed like the logical way to head that off at the pass was to force him to go to Sunday School until he begged me to stop. We were done in eight weeks - but I made him go another month just to be safe.

My favorite part of the Sunday Service was the money wave. Once all the ushers finished the collection, they gathered in the back of the sanctuary. At the opening chord of the Doxology, they marched up red carpet to the altar with their baskets of cash. The congregation stood up as the ushers passed by, pew by pew, and it looked just like a crowd doing the wave at a ball stadium - hence the term: The Money Wave.

No matter how inspirational a church service is, the collection plays a central role. And that's an interfaith phenomenon. God knows the Catholics weren't the first religious group to figure out you can make a killing.

And we're still killing people over the people who got killed on 9-11 over who knows what. The smartest remark I ever heard about the entire episode was made by a young woman who used to teach at the school on the hill. She had come to America with her parents from Iran back when the Shah was deposed. She she had a bit of insight into the convoluted politics of America and Middle East and provides another example of how being on a traditionally feminine trajectory does not preclude experience and knowledge about world history and politics.

She said that there was no way any of us would ever know what had happened behind closed doors, so live your life.

That's as true today as it was back in 2001. That's undoubtedly easier to do when no one is shooting at you, dropping bombs on your head, lobbing explosives at your house or trying to blow up the bus you take in the morning. And even Michael Moore doesn't really know what the hell is happening behind all those closed doors.


Gail said...

Hi Trish -

Your post is absolutely the best first person account of 9/11 I have ever heard. "Thanks" for your realism' and your amazement writing style.

Love Gail

PENolan said...

Thank you, Gail. I'm grateful to have heard that beautiful young woman from Iran speak her little truth so wisely.
I'm also grateful for our comrades in the military who have made it possible for people like me to worry about important things like cold beer and barbecue instead of whether a jet is an F16 or what. When I was saying about the planes, I realized Tom Cruise knows more about that stuff than I ever will - which is exactly how I believe those brave souls in the trenches want things to be.

CDP said...

I love this post. I'm profoundly tired of the politicization of 9/11 by both the left and the right. All that matters are the 2700 people who died and the people they left behind. You're so right; no one deserved that shit.

Anonymous said...

A beautiful post.

You going to the store and getting ready for a housefull - that's what you do when a neighbour needs you. When there's a funeral, or everyone's lights go out, or when any sort of thing brings you together and you all make room and make food and make company.

These are the actions, and the kinds of thinking that promote healing. That's why we want to read stories like this. Politicizing is abstract. Making a pot of chili or a bucket of margaritas is tangible.


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