This, Too, Shall Pass? (9/12/01)

I don't know how many times I've started to write this, given up, and started over again.

Frankly, everything I try to say comes out trite, or ineffectual, or just plain wrong. I've spent four years writing about little things, and suddenly I want to talk about something so big I can't even see it. It doesn't fit in my head, yet at the same time I can't get it out of there. And trust me-- I do want it out of there. But it's not likely to leave. Ever.

So let me try a different angle; let me write about a little thing.

Yesterday morning I woke up and quickly formed the opinion that I was having a bad day. I spilled my coffee. Katie missed her bus and needed a ride to the train station, which tacked an extra twenty minutes onto my commute. Then I missed my exit and had to drive three miles out of my way just to turn around. I arrived at work late, at about twenty past nine, and as I sat down in front of my Macs, I thought to myself, "this is going to be one of those days."

That's when the phone rang.

It was my aunt back in Chicago, just calling to make sure that neither Katie nor I had been on a plane out of Boston that morning. "Why," I asked, "what happened?"

Of course, I don't need to tell any of you what happened. But that was the point at which my bad day started looking a whole lot better than it could have been, while simultaneously getting a whole lot worse.

Since all news sites were completely clogged and I had no access to a TV or radio (at least until our company switched our phone system's hold music over to a news station), most of my data came via AOL Instant Messenger updates-- from Nico in her dorm room at Tufts, Brian at work in Louisville, and Paula way over in Scotland. Without seeing any pictures, none of it seemed real. The words that kept appearing in front of me refused to form images in my head; the enormity of what they described was unimaginable.

I called Katie at work. While we were talking, she suddenly said she had to leave because they were closing her building as a precautionary measure. Despite the fact that Boston is miles from New York or D.C., two of those planes originated at Logan Airport, which means the people responsible had been here just hours before-- and given the arrests made today, I was probably right to worry that they had left behind some friends. I was even more on edge for two hours until Katie called to say she had finally arrived home safely.

But, of course, Boston wasn't hit with anything other than the shock and horror of the events that unfolded. And I rode out the rest of the day as best I could, absorbing the news as it rolled in, trying to swallow these facts and occasionally choking. Eventually everything got too big and I left early. On the way out the door, I found the fortune cookie I had brought with lunch and forgotten to eat. I cracked it open and read my fate: "LOOK! GOOD FORTUNE IS AROUND YOU." And given that I was still alive to eat a fortune cookie on the way home from work, I'd have to say, damn straight.

As I told a faithful viewer who wrote in asking how we were doing, mostly I'm just sad. Not angry, though there's plenty of anger in there as well. But far greater is an overwhelming sadness that we could do something like this to ourselves. And yes, we did it to ourselves. I don't mean that in a political sense, i.e. U.S. foreign policy brought us to this sorry fate-- I'm not talking about Arabs killing Americans, or Muslims killing Christians, or anything like that: I mean it in the most inclusive and basic sense possible. I'm talking about people killing people.

This isn't about borders, nationalities, flags, or religions. Or rather, if it is about borders, nationalities, flags, or religions, it shouldn't be, because that would be cheap. The bottom line is that this is about thousands of people who woke up yesterday morning and maybe missed their exits or spilled their coffee or gave their fiancées rides to the subway station and now will never do anything that trivial-- or anything at all-- ever again.

For what it's worth, I don't want vengeance, though I'm not downplaying the feelings of those who do. What I want is for all those thousands of people who perished to cram into my front yard, ring the doorbell, and yell "April Fool!" so I can rub my eyes in disbelief and then take everyone out for popsicles. I want this all to be a bad practical joke. And barring that, I want to understand how anyone, let alone several people, could intentionally end their own lives and those of thousands of fellow human beings by steering multiple jetliners into heavily occupied structures.

On second thought, I don't want to understand that. I don't want to understand that at all. For sanity's sake, some things need to stay in the realm of the incomprehensible.

So it's the day after. What's different? Well, this morning I didn't spill my coffee, because I didn't bother making any. Katie caught her bus. I managed to catch the right exit between highways. I even got to work before nine. So this should have been a good day. But to say that things are back to normal would be ludicrous. After this, what are the odds that we'll ever be "back to normal"? The whole concept of "normal" just changed forever.

As far as our little drama is concerned, right now I think we all have more drama than we can handle. What's an appropriate length of time before AtAT's usual content becomes worthwhile again? Or at least less offensive? I haven't the foggiest idea. At this point it feels like nothing so trivial could possibly matter ever again. I understand the stance that we shouldn't let terrorism interfere with our day-to-day lives, but for those of you urging us to get AtAT back on track, let me ask you a question: do you feel like making wisecracks about black turtlenecks and Evian water right about now? Exactly. So you can understand our position.

That said, tomorrow we're going to try to get back on a regular broadcast schedule. We really hope that no one takes that as a sign of disrespect, or feels that we're trivializing what happened. Basically, here's my rationale: last night I decided that I'd had enough horror for one day and went channel-surfing to find anything not related to slo-mo video footage of a plane flying into a building, and believe me when I tell you that I wasn't finding much. Eventually I settled for episodes of The Brady Brides on the Family Channel-- but even that had text about the crashes scrolling across the bottom of the screen. There was no escaping it.

While I understand that my usual rerun of The Simpsons was preempted due to a tragedy of immense proportions, I really could have used my customary thirty minutes of familiarity and laughter right about then-- just as a brief respite from the nightmare. We wouldn't presume that continuing AtAT production will make any of this any better, but if anyone out there is going to find even the tiniest bit of comfort and mirth in the sort of stuff we churn out, heck, we're game if you are.

One last thing: faithful viewer Mark A. Gangi reminds us that a call has gone out for people in the New York area to donate blood, bottled water, dust masks, and food, so please help out if you can. (Presumably blood donations will help no matter where you are.) Thanks for letting me get tremendously off-topic here, and please take care of yourselves and each other. At the end of the day, none of us has much else.


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The above scene was taken from the 9/12/01 episode:

September 12, 2001: Jack gets way off-topic, because anything on-topic would be terribly inappropriate right about now...

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