Not Our Finest Hour


Not everyone is a hero.  We can’t all rise to the occasion.  Sometimes tragedies bring out the best in people; more than likely we see the worst.  We’ve seen it happen in New Orleans.  We’ve seen it happen countless other times.

I’m not going to bash the current administration or the previous one.  The current glut of 9/11 movies will be safe from any sort of review from me.  I’m not interested in anything they have to say.  Several of the surviving spouses of those killed may want to take a long look in the mirror and figure out what their priorities are.  But, I’m not the one to tell them what is wrong with their values.

Five years ago, my day started like any other day.  I got up early and enjoyed catching Imus before work.  In the middle of an Imus rant about how people who tail gate at football games are the biggest losers you would ever want to see, MSNBC broke in to show the North Tower on fire.  Conjecture ran from a large electrical fire to a private plane accidentally crashing into the building.  The word "terrorist" had yet to be uttered.  This was about 7:45.  When the Today show reruns the morning in its entirety, see if you catch the part where Katie Couric argues with an eyewitness about what she saw.  Katie, being a network journalist, had a far better sense of the unfolding events than some goddamn cleaning woman who saw it with her own goddamn eyes, but didn’t have her own television show.

Fifteen minutes later, I’m still trying to believe that it was an accident, when the next plane careened into the South Tower on live television.  It happened so fast that MSNBC cut away right after it happened.  Lester Holt had to say something like, "Hey, did another plane just hit the building?"

If ever in life you wished that you had super powers, it was probably that moment.

I went to work.  Nothing got done.  Everyone was glued to a radio or trying to get news online.  All the servers for the networks and cable news channels had crashed in the rush for information.  The horrors escalated the longer we listened.  I told my Pakistani boss he may want to lay low for a couple of days.

A friend who was with the Red Cross had coincidentally scheduled a blood drive over at Meharry.  I got over there once it became clear that there was nothing we could do.  The line was out the door and down the block.  My friend told me that there was no way she could get me in any time soon.

So, I went to my bartending night job.  By now the crazy rumors had hit a crescendo.  People were stuck in town as their flights had been cancelled.  Someone said a bomb threat had been called in downtown.  Al-Qaeda was determined to blow up The Wildhorse Saloon.  All kinds of crazy shit.  Everyone was on edge.

The bar was packed at 4 pm.  People had nowhere to go.  A few of my regulars and I started to discuss the death toll.

"There has to be at least 50,000 dead," Tony declared.

"You are out of your fucking mind," I shot back.  "They got a lot of people out before the towers came down.  No way it is that many."

Philip joined in, "Yeah, there has to be only, like 10,000 dead."

"No.  Five Thousand Dead.  Tops," I declared as keeper of the bar and resident know-it-all.

Tony was adamant that the death toll was extremely high, "I’m telling you, 25-50 thousand!"

This went on for a while.  Others at the bar started to listen in and give their two cents here and there.  It got to the point where we were arguing and I started throwing out crazy death tolls from Antietam to Vietnam.  Finally, I had enough of the conjecture without consequence.  "I got a hundred bucks that says the death toll isn’t more than five thousand!"

"I’ll take that action!!"

"Yo, I’m in for that!"

That’s when the two guys at the other end of the bar couldn’t take it any more.  Apparently, they were New Yorkers.  They had friends who worked at the WTC.  They didn’t know if their friends were dead or alive.  They did not appreciate our tone or our ghoulish betting pool.  I apologized profusely.  We meant no disrespect.  After a day full of unrelenting horror and an uncertain future, this was just our way of blowing off a little steam.

One guy was cool with that.  The other one wasn’t.  He started calling into question our manhood, parentage and patriotism.  Which is not a cool thing to do.  Not just because I had apologized for our thoughtless outburst, but because Tony used to fight in those Tough Man competitions and does not appreciate having his manhood, parentage and patriotism called into question.  He had a bout scheduled in Murfreesboro the next week, and wouldn’t have minded a tune up fight in the bar.  When it became clear he was going to beat them both down if they said another word, I was able to defuse the situation and they paid their tab and left. 

Fast forward to the next weekend.  A group of us guys had a kayak/canoe/camping trip planned for the Buffalo River.  We were in Kroger on Friday after 9/11, I guess. Getting all the food stuffs we would be taking down the river with us.  It seemed like as good a time as any.  The television had been telling us for days that one of the other signs of the Apocalypse was nigh.  Getting out in the woods and away from any sources of news would be a good way to de-stress for a couple of days.  As we did our shopping, the store intercom started saying something about remembering the victims and something, something something.  I really didn’t catch it all.  I was there to buy food, not to listen to Kroger pat themselves on the back by telling me that 5% of their after tax profits today were going to be donated to the Red Cross or whatever.

We completed our shopping and joking about.  The girl at the register was giving me the stink eye as she rang us up.  As I paid, she spit out, "I don’t really appreciate you disrespecting our moment of silence for the victims of 9/11."

"I’m here to buy groceries.   If you are in the "moment of silence" business, maybe you should change your signs," my inner monologue said.  However, the words that actually came out were more like, "Um, yeah? Well, we…uh…you know…this isn’t…we didn’t…so what!"  Which wasn’t the snappy comeback I obviously wished for.

Five years later I can’t watch those towers come down again.  I can’t think about the people on the planes.  I can’t watch the Pentagon burning.  I saw it then and I don’t want to see any of it again.  The deaths of those people will not be forgotten, but they don’t need to be constantly relived.  I’ll pass on all the the remembrances and tributes this week.  

I realize now that I’ve hardened my heart to the events of September 11, 2001 because I can’t take watching those people die like that.  I couldn’t take it then and I still don’t like to think about it.

We can’t all be heroes.


5 Responses to “Not Our Finest Hour”

  1. Exador Says:

    "We’re going to bomb the shit out of somebody."My first words as I saw the second plane hit the towers.

  2. Tutularue Says:

    If watching the 9/11 events all over again makes one a hero, I am a coward. We shouldn’t forget about it, but I don’t think reliving it is healthy either. Actually, it is sort of ghoulish.

  3. Sarcastro Says:

    Exactly. If you keep picking at the scab, the wound will never heal.My mom taught me that.

  4. bridgett Says:

    With you on this one. Enough already. (I told someone that somewhere in Manhattan, some real estate developer was hitting the phone. Not my most sensitive moment.)

  5. Klevabich Says:

    Yep, we can’t forget it, but we don’t have to wallow in it. I still find it hard to watch that stuff and probably always will. Hell, I still get teary at footage of JFK in Dallas and the Challenger explosion.But there’s not one damned thing any of us can do to change what happened, and no need to feel guilty for not wanting to rehash it again and again.

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