Nothing to see here, move along

They were more impressive than beautiful, really. Blunt brute size did what the monotonous details could not: it made them compelling and magnetic. When you think of it, every city had one, half its size at most. Sheer straight 50-story towers with thin windows are common. A tower one hundred stories was not.

And there were two. Two! As though anyone could build one. Twins though they were, they didn’t seem like siblings; they always struck me as individuals whose identities were masked in a scrim of steel and glass, like guards whose helmets show only their eyes. (They never looked like twins after nightfall, when different floors were illuminated.) They seemed to be warily competitive of each other, too.

Why talk about a building instead of the people who died inside? I don’t know. Because buildings just fall, and it’s over; trucks come and pick up the rubble and cart them off to landfills, and the gulls have nothing to feed upon. The people who fell – they’re still falling, frozen in the air, nameless as birds, archived on websites that care about such things. Although as one prominent commentator noted, such folks are “propagandists,” and hence engaged in war-porn designed to keep us in a state of constant fear and belligerence. You can be sad, you see, but not too sad. You can be angry, but not for long. You can be wary and alert for it all to happen again, but keep it to yourself, lest you seem paranoid.

I have less to say on the fourth anniversary, because I’m not sure what needs to be said. You get it or you don’t, and if the passage of time has made the lessons indistinct, a picture of that September morning will look as remote as a screen grab from “Tora Tora Tora.” As Mark Steyn put it, we are winning the war on terrorism, but perhaps we are losing the war about the war. I’ve seen this happen for a year and a half – hell, since the first reports of Quagmire and the Brutal Afghan Winter. Between the incessant pessimism, the lack of focus, the interminable litany of sins from Abu Ghraib to Gitmo, the tepid wind-chimey spirit of the memorial culture that would rather put a vague sorrowful half-circle in a Pennsylvania field than a monument to courage and half-crazy bravery – well, the floorboards where our betters live are rotten with doubt, and they hear fatal creaks every time they dare take a step. So there’s not much point in wondering where this will go, because it’s already there – and the next time IT happens, we will not wait a month or two before the doubts and attacks begin. A London or Madrid-style attack will expose our divisions more than our solidarities, at least in the media. Anything worse will make such chatterings irrelevant, and as attractive as that sounds, you really don't want that.

It’s obligatory to note where I was on that day: well, I was right here. With a little girl who hadn’t learned to walk, playing with an Elmo phone that kept saying “hello! Hello!” Much has changed; she walks, the phone went to Goodwill, the room’s been painted, the TV upgraded, and she plays now on the computer I used to write whatever I wrote that morning. But the view out the windows is the same. The same dog rests at my feet when I work. The same flag flies outside and the same grass grows thick on the lawn below; the tremulous fear, the sense of imminent rolling catastrophe, has long since passed. And never have I noted its passing without thinking it was simply deferred.

In the end there was nothing left but the hole above, something to be emptied out. I think we all would feel better if it had been filled and restored. A clean hole isn’t the end. It’s just intermission.

I have jury duty tomorrow, which means I had to spend Sunday night writing two columns and two Bleats just to give myself some breathing room. I don’t look forward to this, for many reasons. For one thing, the court system consistently refuses to levy disproportionately punitive sentences for things that annoy me. Last week our neighborhood was struck by a cretin who spray-painted his name and picture everywhere. More than a dozen clean white walls defaced with his idiot scribbles. I think the sentence should be one week breaking rocks in the hot sun. And he provides the rocks. But no; such cases never go to trial; the miscreants probably have to do community service, which consists of telling schoolkids not to spray paint walls, after which there is a question-and-answer period on influences and technique. So if I get a case that concerns anything but my pet social peeve, I am likely to spend the deliberation time in a sulk. On the other hand, that’s probably true for the other eleven people, too.

I skipped the Fall Postcard Show. Unbelievable. Who this man is in the mirror, I know not. Saturday I was leaving the house when it struck me: nah. I did not want to sit in a crowded, close room paging through postcards I had seen a dozen times before, looking for something new – only to discover when I got home that I already had it. Give it a rest for a few months – haven’t even put up the 100+ motel cards I’ve purchased since I put up that site. Perhaps I’d better put up stuff now and get more stuff later. Like this, from my friend George:

It’s a postcard that looks like a telegram! The message is rather poorly worded – “Heartiest congratulations and best wishes May your troubles be little ones”

May your children bring you grief, in other words. Here’s the front:

1905. One hundred years ago. Any chance one of Google’s infinite tendrils has curled around her name?

Why, yes. From a 1950 report of the good people of Gordon:

Miss Sally Johnson was born in Girardville June 1, 1882. She came to Gordon on Dec. 24, 1892 to the Johnson homestead where the Federal Weather Station has been for 40 years. Miss Johnson has been tax receiver since 1945.

I’m assuming that’s her, despite the spelling, since the great metropolis of Gordon doesn’t seem large enough to contain a multitude of Sally Johnsons c. 1905. But if it’s her, one has to wonder: what happened to the marriage? She was known as Miss Johnson in 1950, which suggests that the marriage didn’t happen. Forty-five years of silence and mystery. If it was called off, why? Did the groom take sick with the grippe and expire? Did she break it off and leave tongues wagging all over Gordon, and did everyone who wrote out a check to Miss Johnson’s office recall the story they’d heard an aunt whisper when she didn’t think the kids were around?

You never know. It’s all a mystery; everyone falls.

I wish they’d build it again. The same two towers. Because we can. Because they can’t.

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