On September 11, 2001, roughly 8:45 a.m., two New York guys, white, early 20s, of the type that might preface each instance of ironic yet brotherly teasing with “dude,” were walking on lower Fifth Avenue toward Washington Square Park.
Where they were going on what was shaping up as a beautiful day, weather-wise; what they were talking about if conversing at all, I don’t know; the story was told to me second-hand. But I do know that when a roaring plane soared overhead at an unthinkably low altitude, one of them was moved to note, worriedly, “damn, that plane is flying really low.”
To which his friend replied, for the last time, I'd imagine, that day, “yo, don’t worry ‘bout it.”
I have told this story maybe a hundred times. It’s my September 11th vignette-of-choice. The alternatives -- conflagration and panic blooming into mass terror – I have studiously avoided for 10 years. Unlike the CGI-worthy footage of this year's Japan tsunami ("disaster porn" a colleague dubbed it), images from September 11 hold for me no prurient appeal. In a variation on the old Mel Brooks quotation, "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die," can't-miss viral video is when disaster strikes on the other side of the world, excruciatingly painful video is when a seemingly impervious landmark you grew up three miles and four subway stops away from has become a holocaust of twisted wreckage, not to mention a worldwide symbol of applied evil.
When I first heard the news, living some 3,000 miles away from the streets I knew as my childhood neighborhood but which now teemed with panicked residents, I did the same thing as many who found themselves home that day: I plopped myself on the couch and turned on the news.