Postcard, 1940s

9:10 AM Kitchen Table

Jasper woke everyone by throwing up. Just bile, but it’s the third time in three weeks. I went downstairs to scrub, and thought of the day when we just got him, and he was a sick little dog; I held him in my arms and watched the news all day. Oklahoma City had been bombed. That was a long time ago, I thought. Six years. I thought back to that morning, when I first saw that horrifying news.

Sara fed Gnat while I showered. I went upstairs to shower

It’s not good when you turn on the shower radio and you hear Peter Jennings. It’s just not good at all. I thought: hmm, they’re running a repeat of the World Trade Center bombing coverage. Anniversary?

Then I hear what happens. Leave shower, toweling off as President speaks. Head downstairs; wife wonders what I was shouting about. Turn on TV.

Unbelievable. Well, I think - it was high enough, they might have withstood the crash of a light plane . . .

Then the tape runs of the jetliner slamming into the side. Two thoughts, almost simultaneously:

Clancy novel, with New York instead of Washington
Pearl Harbor. This is Pearl Harbor.

9: 20 Just called the office, cancelled the column for tomorrow. They’ll need the space for serious business, and the last thing anyone needs tomorrow is a humor column.

9:24 Have sudden strong need for a cigarette, and a gun.

10:00 Again, and again, and again: the Towers thundering down. Gnat happily playing with her books.

News reports dancing in the streets on West Bank. Saw TV reports of some little boys whooping it up. Note to self: do not teach daughter to exult when people die

10: 12 The World Trade Center is not America. Oh, in a way it is - a marvel of engineering, a hub of wealth creation, designed by a man of Japanese ancestry, constructed by hand by citizens whose people came from Europe, Asia, Africa. Men who prayed to one God, to many, to none. All colors and creeds constructed that building; like any skyscraper in any American city, the World Trade Center was the legend of Babel refuted in stone and glass.

But it was merely a manifestation of America. If the terrorists had a finer grasp of American culture, they might have headed for the Empire State Building. It has a greater claim as a national symbol. It went up during the overture to the Depression, a statement of optimism in a world of compounded doom. Its lines are serious and austere, yet romantic and ennobling. A zeppelin docked at its summit; King Kong climbed its cliffs. Even the name contains the contradictions of America - we are an empire, yes but an empire whose provinces are knitted together by an idea. A concept. A bold proposition: citizenship is not based on blood, on clan, on tribe, but on a belief in an ideal.

An ideal often soiled by the crude hands of mere humans, yes. But an ideal whose worst manifestation in our history is still a hundred times better than the world the terrorists wish to bring about.

11:38. Walked around the block with daughter and dog. It’s quiet in the neighborhood; not much traffic. Unusually silent.

No planes.

I pass three giggling girls sneaking a cigarette outside the highschool. I feel as if I should glower, but just look away.

Wondering as I approach the house if there’ll be additional news. There is. Another plane down. Four commercial airliners in one day. Sweet Jesus.

Gnat is rubbing her eyes; I put her down with Winky. She coos and gurgles and she’s off to sleep. I think: in the New York of her lifetime, there are no Twin Towers. This sort of landmark subtraction has no parallel.

There’s not a single part of this story that doesn’t induce wave after wave of nausea and horror.

12:07 The timing between the impacts is interesting - it has a classic terrorist twist: Detonate one bomb, wait for the ambulances and fire trucks to convene, then strike again. Kill the innocents, then kill the people who show up to help.

1:49 Rebuild it. Not two towers, but one: taller than its predecessors. Rooftop guards with stinger missles. Hell, people would take that job for nothing.

3:00 If this was the work of Bin Laden, he’s just done for Palestinian nationalism what Tojo did for Japanese militarism.

5:03 I voted. Went to the polling place with Gnat in the stroller, under the small American flag stuck in the door frame at the school. Lots of people voting - the lady who took my information said they had unusually heavy turnout for a mere city primary. “I think voting means something more today,” I said. “I think you’re right,” she said. I wore, for the first time, that little I VOTED sticker. That is what we are, and they aren’t. I live in a country where a guy who wants to be mayor opposes the established regime, and doesn’t get shot, jailed, or disappeared. That seems quite precious right now. More so than before.

Went to Target. Life goes on, even if it’s in a state of tremulous fury and worry. Bought . . . frames. Simple items that will forever be tied to this day, these events; it’s like a water faucet you installed on the day Kennedy was shot. Every time you turn the tap, somewhere in the back of your head you remember.

5:40 Gnat puts the entirety of her supper ration of oranges in her hair.

10:38 PM Day over, but not over; I got a call from the DC bureau requesting an op-ed piece on today’s events. I wrote it. (Used the Empire State Bldg passage above as a portion.) Periodically I’d go outside to work on a cigar. I heard a plane go by overhead, and I was startled - all day the skies have been quiet overhead. Tonight in the playground you could hear all the laughter of all the children all the time; the usual roar of the jets was stilled, and the neighborhood had the calm & quiet we’d all so deeply desired. Now we had it and it made us nervous.

So when I heard a plane overhead tonight, it was wrong. Turns out they were military jets circling around, securing the airspace. Just heard an unusually loud one, and I flinched; what had been an ordinary sound, an ordinary annoyance, was now a dire portent. Is this the future? Fearing the sound of every jet?

HELL no. I am not going to live in fear. They want my freedom, my peace of mind? Come and get it.

I won't do your work for you.