Ten or twenty or whatever-even-year-anniversaries are easy opportunities to reflect on an important moment, whether it’s completely personal or a shared experience of the world. In a way it’s lazy, but I guess it’s human nature to repress things until we’re prodded by external forces (such as a calendar) to confront them. So here it is . . . fifteen years since September 11, 2001.
Has it really been fifteen years?
We all remember where we were. I was at 3270 Descanso Drive in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles I was scheduled to work at 10 am that morning at California Pizza Kitchen and awoke at my usual nine am, just enough time to shower and scramble and get in my VW Pasaat Wagon that would zoom me through the surface streets to downtown LA. I did the same thing every day.
But something was wrong.
That morning the phone kept ringing and ringing. I’m almost positive my roommate Fozzie was gone that day. I can’t remember why . . . the details are escaping me, but I think he had gone up to Ventura because I can’t remember speaking to him. But for sure nobody answered the phone and there had to be at least 3 calls.
The night before I had gone to Taix, the French place in my neighborhood that was an old- school upscale restaurant with this great retro lounge. I went there with a few of my CPK compadres to drink after our shift and watch Monday Night Football. I can’t recall who was playing, but I do remember flirting with the hostess and experiencing an overall feeling of fun. Our group in that dark lounge on Sunset Boulevard was a good one, doing shots and laughing and it was the kind of night, although very simple, that at 31 you’re old enough to realize how lucky you are to experience it.
But back to the wretched morning, Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I wasn’t hung-over, but the night before I certainly had too many drinks and not enough sleep. The phone rang several times and I was too tired to answer it. So when my alarm went off at 9:00 am, I hit snooze and tried to get a few more minutes of glorious slumber. When the clock radio went off again, something told me to listen to the answering machine. Nobody called us that early, and back then (when the land line was the only show in town) hearing the phone ring during the dead of night or early in the morning almost certainly meant bad news. When I got out of bed and listened to the answering machine, I heard the shaky and sullen voice of one of the lead servers at CPK. His name was Tirso and he said something to the effect:
“Hi, Mike. We’re not going to open today. I’m sure you probably know why. I’m calling everybody and, um, I don’t know if we’re going to open tomorrow.”
I immediately went to the TV. Just past nine am Pacific Time the Towers were already gone. It was all so terrible, but I sat there and watched for hours. I recall going online and getting the instant reaction to what was being called the worst attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor. At some point that morning I called my Mom, and I remember being scared and feeling so happy to hear her voice. I know I also called a bunch of friends, but other than my Mom I can’t remember any of the conversations.
After digesting more news on TV and online, I had to get out of the apartment. I had a basket of dirty clothes and took it to the laundromat. There was one other person there, the attendant, and we nodded to each other when I entered. I can’t remember if there was a TV there, but I certainly didn’t look at it. After loading my items into the washer I sat outside in one of the plastic chairs and just zoned-out in the sunny and warm day.
I’ll never forget sitting there, questioning myself on whether or not I should be doing laundry. I remember getting a flash in my head, imagining my future grandchildren asking me what I did on September 11th. I would have to look the kids in the eyes and tell them I cleaned my dirty socks and underwear.
But what else could I do? I was alone and I needed to get away, from the television, the internet and from the spot I learned the world had changed. A cute girl in her 20s walked in to do laundry at some point, and when she went outside for a cigarette we chatted for a few minutes about the shock of the day and she went back inside. I had brought my notebook with me that day and this is what I scribbled:
September 11, 2011
The World Trade Center is gone.
Six years ago I was on the top of one of those buildings in the outside observation deck, getting my photo taken and basking in the beautiful New York day. You know there were people on top when it happened. It sickens me to think of that.
I really haven’t been able to digest all this craziness. U.S. commercial planes smashing into the buildings. Thousands of people dying. Hijacked jets flying into the Twin Towers and Pentagon.
How do you react? How can one comprehend something that doesn’t seem real? It’s as if you’re watching a movie or a computer simulation. With such a horrendous act of terrorism on American soil how can life go on as normal?
How can it not?
Our best defense as an individual is to try and go on with our daily lives. Because what’s the alternative? Cowering in complete fear underneath our beds? Crying and moaning over the fragility of our existence? Yes, we need to understand the horror of today. Yes, we can never forget this fucking cowardly and insane act. But we can’t let these assholes ruin or even change our spirit of freedom.
As I wrote earlier, I need more time to articulate all of my feelings. Sitting here on the corner of Glendale and Fletcher in Los Angeles, I’m trying to keep it all together. Laundry is something that needs to be done in everyday life and I’m here doing it. Should I be with friends and loved ones now? Perhaps, but my family is 3,000 miles away, I don’t have a girlfriend, and I guess there is a big part of me that just wants to be alone and think and contemplate my life. Fuck . . . I don’t know what else to say now.
As much as I try I can’t remember what I did later that evening, but I definitely had a lot of booze. All I can recall is sitting on the back stairs, staring out to the skyline of L.A. and being spooked that there were no airplanes in the sky. At some point I picked up my journal and here is what I wrote later on that night.
Early Wed- 1:07 am
It might not be over.
Shit . . . I mean how can we be certain? L.A. is a huge fucking target, and nobody can know if we’re not next. I work on the bottom of a stupid skyscraper. And while the Ernst & Young Building isn’t a symbol of America it’s a tall goddamned building in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Do I even want to go near the place, or even such a major metropolitan area that could be attacked in all kinds of nefarious ways?
This is fucking ridiculous. I’ve seen the TV clips of the towers collapsing over and over and over again. It’s so insane. The sound gets to me almost as much as the images. Crunching metal and screams and the explosions. And the people jumping off the 70th floor, tumbling through the air while the buildings burn and smoke billows out of them. It can’t be real. It has to be some hoax . . . some reality show stunt.
But it isn’t.
ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CNN, and the local stations are giving us the video reality of this tragedy round the clock since it happened. Although I might be 3,000 miles away from it, in the year 2001 that doesn’t matter. Live and in stereo . . . the country in flames for everybody to see. I hate to admit it but I’m scared.
What does it mean . . . what does anything mean??
Fifteen years later . . . I don’t think anybody has an answer. Or else you can only have the personal answer that works just for you. We mourn the people who lost their lives. We never forgot the horror.