Wednesday, September 07, 2011

9/11 Changed My Life

As we fall into the mindless maelstrom of self obsessed shared traumatic introspection, a sort of onanistic wave of introspective patriotic self abuse, reliving the pain, passing on the shards of memory, a sort of genetic mutation in our collective nationalistic the days leading up to the tenth anniversary of the Destruction of the World Trade Centers, inundated by Television Movies alternatively somber and sensationalistic...a truly jingoistic marketing opportunity, a way to refresh our hate, a way to endlessly relive the pain, savor that we are bludgeoned endlessly by political factions trying to gain any kind of traction, to claim it as their own...
Sometimes I feel the way America has internalized and obsessed on 9/11 borders of pornography. It became the way we lost our innocence. We will never be quite so free again. We let it happen by surrendering to our insecurity. We fear fear itself.
In this blog, I never wrote the story of my personal experience on 9/11. I have written the story on other blogs and I have made a few references to to it here. In 2007, I wrote a post, A Kind Of Pornography.
Because, I was in lower Manhattan that day only a short distance away from the World Trade Centers.
I saw first tower smoking from the roof of my East Village apartment and spent the next few hours on a bike first in Union Square , then on Greenwich as the second plane hit.
The smell, the insane cloud of dust rushing up 6th Avenue as I tried to escape to Central Park on bike as the first tower collapsed...then having to relive it all over and over again every time I was near a television in America and then when I finally could rebook my flight to France...this will remain with me the rest of my life.
Of course I felt personally attacked. Of course I felt unfocused rage and anger, but I was determined to find the focus for my rage. If I am angry, I want to know why I am angry and make sure my anger is not wasted on the wrong target. Gradually the feelings coalesced into a need to understand what had happened and why a group of people could feel strongly enough to destroy themselves in that insane act.
I felt I had to learn about Islam. I realized I knew nothing except caricatures and generalized history.
The first anniversary of 9/11 found me working in a vineyard at my first vendange near Libourne, France at the Chateau Vieux Chevrol. I was the American, the outsider and I was working with a big mix of Dutch, French, Algerians and Moroccans. Most people were pretty curious about me and found my extremely bad french pretty amusing. The Moroccans for the most part were very warm towards me, but there were some Algerians who refused to speak to me and one who was out right hostile when he found out I was an American. A guy named Mustapha, who became my "victim". Because I refused to be his victim. When he spat at my feet, I laughed. When we ate together for lunch, I made a point to sit beside him and jabber away and joke in English and French. After 3 days, the people at the table made sure the seat next to him was waiting for me. I was cutting grapes the first year and I ended up working next to him with a number of other Algerian and Moroccans who joked with me. One afternoon, a woman who had been initially hostile to me, Xenab, asked me if I had seen the World Trade Centers collapse. I tried to tell them eyewitness account as well as I could, but I tried to explain that it made me want to learn about the rest of the world. It made want to reach out, rather than shrink away.
The next day, at lunch, I had an epiphany as Mustapha suddenly turned to me and told me, "You know, I can speak english very well." In fact, his english was better than his french. He was actually a very interesting intelligent and surprisingly cultured person. We were suddenly buddies. I had another friend that year. A Russian named Sergei, who spoke much better english than french. I found myself translating for him.
Now I work with the same group of Moroccans each year. I eat dinner at their homes. We can tell each other jokes and laugh. I have seen their kids grow up. Xeneb gives me Moroccan treats. I find myself understanding their religion more and more. I see the variations in the sects.
What is the point of this? I spent a lot of time learning the geopolitical forces that created the impetus for the Al Qaeda attack on New York. My anger is not wasted on an entire group of people, but finely focused on the real culprits. In fact, I have learned to appreciate the culture and the art of a large portion of the world that was shrouded in a self imposed veil of ignorance.
My advice? America, stop reliving the pain. Let the festering wound heal. Stop the infection of Racist hate, because you are only making yourself sicker. Much worse things have happened to people everywhere on the planet all through history and life goes on, relentlessly. Learn to Laugh at Yourselves Again.
So, the night after the World Trade Center Attack, there was a Friars Club Roast in Manhattan for Hugh Hefner. The room was dead. Nobody had the mojo. Nobody was laughing. Then the comedian Gilbert Gottfried came on and dared to tell a few jokes that mentioned the disaster...stunned then Gilbert launches into his version of the now legendary "Aristocrats" routine. The most utterly tasteless, long, purposely relentless obscene joke in the history of show business. You haven't heard it? Gottfrieds rendition of the joke became so legendary that an entire movie was made about other comedians telling their version of the joke. When he finished, the room exploded. It was an utterly cathartic moment. If you want, I'll post one of Gottfrieds renditions of the joke...every time he tells it, it's different. But here's Gottfriend trying to explain why he can't show the video of the actual performance....


Lodo Grdzak said...

I was at Trade Center right when the first plane hit (I was standing on Liberty Street). I wrote a long essay about the day(s) that followed which to this day is the best thing I've read on the subject (sorry, if that sounds arrogant, its just a fact). But I don't even think or care about 9/11 anymore and that essay just sits in the closet. It was 10 years ago already. If the average life span is 70 years old or so, more than 10% of my life's gone by. Got better things to than remember the day the monkeys got the best of the zookeepers. Got a lot of life to live.

microdot said...

Well, Lodo, that is the point of my 9/11 anti essay here and I certainly admire your attitude. I recently lost 2 very old friends due to health problems that were definitely related to the disaster. Only the jackals stand to profit from keeping this wound festering. Gottfried is brilliant because he can't even be bothered to stay on the subject when he is talking about it.
I know people who have made a career of their 9/11 day....If anything, I wanted to point how it can be used to free us rather than imprison us!
Thanx for your personal insight.

Lodo Grdzak said...

Gotta live this life and that's what makes life worth living. Enjoy stomping grapes!

Laci The Dog said...

I was in the Delaware County (PA) Prison that AM. I was going through security after Howard Stern announced that the first plane had hit the WTC. My reaction was that it was an accident like the when the B-24 hit the Empire State Building in the 40s.

Anyway, I went to meet with my client.

Unlike the films, we sat in a large room without any barriers between the clients. The visiting rooms are like the ones in the British shows where everyone is sitting at tables.

An hour passes and the prison goes into lockdown. All the unessential personnel were to leave the prison. We were led out and the prisoners were locked up in their cells.

The security guard who checked me in is freaking out. I call the person I work with and he is freaking out. I turn on NPR and it seems that DC is burning--the State Department had been bombed and all sorts of information that turned out to be inaccurate.

What is terrorism? It is to create a state of terror or fear. People panicking is what terrorists want. They want confusion.

Instead of trying to remain calm, people were panicking. That's the wrong reaction!

From the minute the first plane hit, the reactions were wrong. Panick, repeat showing of the tragic moment when the buildings collapsed, closing business on the East Coast, shutting down air traffic. Then the ultimate stupidity, waging war on far away lands.

Your reaction of trying to understand was one of the better reaction. The question should have been trying to figure out how to prevent terrorism rather than engage in acts that create more terrorists. There should have been some retrospection as to how the US has funded the muhjahaddin and other "terrorists".

Instead, there was this stupid lashing out that creates more hatred.

What you did led to further understanding. That makes far more sense.

Anyway, we will now have the ghoulish rememberances instead of something much more positive that will lead to understanding which will prevent further terror and fear.