The Blue Raccoon

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What You Remember
A screaming came across the sky...

The battered Sphere: This massive sculpture by German artist Fritz Koenig adorned a fountain in the plaza between the World Trade Center towers, and is now a memorial in Battery Park. Image via igougo, by S. Sullivan. For a reminiscence by filmmaker Percy Adlon about this piece, go here.

The crystalline perfection of the day. A bright blue sky, the kind that seems to deny that there ever could be clouds or rain, a pleasant late summery sensation. The quality of day that suggests being at work is a waste. Men in shirtsleeves and women in skirts, and an easy ordinariness at the office.

How one of our ladies from the back came into the center cubicles and gripping her glasses in her right hand, dangling, swaying with the nervousness of her announcement, "Did you hear, a plane crashed into the World Trade Center?"

And the thought that this would make it as an "Oops!" moment on the evening news; like that one that collided with the Empire State Building, or the crazy person who flew--was it a Piper Club?--onto the lawn of the White House when Clinton was there.

We had one little black and white television in the office with a rolling picture and we were standing there watching the smoke billow and this looked rather serious. I did not see the second plane hit, but I remember the shouts, and the immediate fear that went round the office, and one of my colleagues saying, "This is war!" and dashing to his computer to see what was happening on the Internet.

I stayed at work, though I called home. We all remained there, unable to figure out what to do, what was happening. Then the Pentagon was struck -- the Pentagon! -- and the rising anxiety clutched at all of us. Rumors circulated -- of a truck laden with explosives in D.C., of a possible threat to the Golden Gate Bridge. The plane went down in Shanksville. People called friends and family, here, New York, D.C., Northern Virginia. Amie saying to me on the phone, "This is awful, this is just awful." I made a mass e-mail to some old high school buddies, one of whom worked in a sensitive situation in D.C. The political round robin began almost immediately. We are of the United States. We cannot help ourselves.

We didn't know anything then, and I thought of Richmond's Federal Reserve Bank sitting there with a broad view of the river and nothing much on any side. The cell phones quit. Civilian aviation was ordered to the ground for the first time in history. The crashes stopped. For how long? What was next?

I thought of Pearl Harbor: all but one of the major ships sunk were re-floated and the U.S. carriers cruising at sea and out of reach. The December 7, 1941 attack succeeded in killing more than a thousand military personnel and civilians, but Japan's surprise was in the end a failure because it roused the nation from a non-interventionist slumber. Then, we knew where the attack came from and how to get at the enemy. Different times and a another war; replaced in the 21st century by a world wide guerrilla movement. How does one nation stamp out all those fires? But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We all went back to work the next day. Still numbed, and wanting to talk. Staying at home and staring at the television seemed unhealthy. The sky was still blue and free of contrails and the sounds of jets. I didn't mind that so much. During the later part of the day after during a meeting I was holding, a huge screaming came across the sky. A fighter jet. Everything stopped. We looked up, tilted our heads, and wondered for a few moments---ours? Theirs? What? When the craft boomed away we chuckled our nervousness. Things were going to be different for a long time and maybe for those who went through those hours, forever. As always, it's the little things one notices.

When a low flying jet comes over, I look up and for a few moments recall how I felt on September 11. I hesitate and think about how everything got turned around, and mixed up, and how so much could've been learned and wasn't, and how excuses were made for pretexts and political hay.

During the subsequent weeks some smart people said dumb things and actions were committed by men and governments without consideration of future ramifications; or worse, despite what they might cause. The sudden conspiracists and the anointed patriots often sounded just as crazy. A great opportunity was squandered. Thousands of people, several fold more than were killed in the 9/11 attacks, died by combat, privation and accident. The world hardened, or maybe it's always been thus. We were reminded that in other countries, that events like 9/11 occur--perhaps not as in a spectacular fashion--every day. That if nothing else, these events should've shaken the United States loose from a sense of exclusion from the historical forces moving in the nations whose names we didn't really know.

But on this day, in 2001, we didn't know anything about any of that. At dusk, Congress stood on the steps of the Capitol and sung God Bless America.

We are still calculating the losses of September 11. And there'll come a time, when those of us who have grandchildren, or younger acquaintances, will at some point try to explain the tenor of the time on September 10, as opposed to September 12, and how the two dates differ.

I just remember her glasses, pinched at the temple, swaying, tick-tocking, the end of what was.

Image of the poster about Percy Adlon's film "Koenig's Kugle" about The Sphere's recovery, dismantling and re-installation, following 9/11. “It was a sculpture, now it’s a monument” remarked the lead engineer Richard Garlock. Via

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home