Twenty Septembers Later.

Posted: September 11, 2021 in Uncategorized

Today is September 11th, 2021, twenty years on from that day in New York. I wasn’t in New York on that day, and the not being there, I think, had its own effects on the trajectory I took.

This isn’t gonna be a profound contribution to the galaxy’s worth of words centered on 9/11/2001. This isn’t going to be the best thing you ever read on the subject, or even the best thing I ever wrote. This may not even be too coherent. This is me trying to work through some thoughts I’ve been having, some recently and some for almost twenty years. You don’t even have to read this, but I hope it holds some interest, if you do.

Most people who have ever come within three feet of me can tell I’m New York-born. Many note there’s not much of an accent. Fewer note that there is one, but that it really only comes out when I’m angry. I think the New York in me is more than an accent. It’s the way I move, the way I carry myself — really, I’m the worst judge of it. It’s just what most people intuit.

I was born in a hospital in the Bronx, I grew up the next city over, in Westchester. Did four years in Connecticut for college. A couple months after graduation, my best friend and I drove across country to California and back. I’ve been to most of the fifty states by now, and I’ve found nice things to say about all of them, even New Jersey. In person, I’ve seen the best of this country, found good people everywhere I’ve gone. Plenty of bad too, but no need to mention those. I’m an idealist who vents like a cynic. I know nothing’s perfect, but I always hope for the best. I do love America.

After college, I worked at a social service agency in Brooklyn for not quite two years. Wanted to give back a little, wanted to figure out where to go with my life. With dreams of a creative life, I set out for Los Angeles.

I got there in August of 2001.

Within two weeks, I got my first entertainment-industry job. With help from my beloved grandparents, I bought my first car. I had my first fender-bender. On that first job, I worked for and with some good people. It started in tragedy, now that I think about it. The kid whose position I was taking over, who I worked with in that first week and liked a lot, died in a plane crash, right after I took over. I don’t get occasion to think of him often, on account of what was to come.

By September 2001, I was working regularly at that first gig, but I had not yet found my own place and had been staying with family. Come that Tuesday morning, as sunny in LA as it was in New York, I was in the bathroom, getting ready for work, taking a shower and listening to the Howard Stern Show on the radio. You can still find that broadcast if you search the internet for it. Were you to ask me where I was when the news came in, I’d have to admit I was naked and thinking it was some kind of joke, considering the source. My cousin knocked on the bathroom door to say, “Something happened in New York.”

In October of 2001, my favorite uncle died. Really he was my mom’s uncle, my great-uncle, my grandpa’s brother, my Uncle Eli. He was living in Cleveland at the time, after many decades spent on Long Island with my sweet Aunt Glady, who died a few years earlier, in 1997. We all wanted him to move closer to the rest of the family in New York, but instead he moved to Cleveland, where all my mom’s extended family is from. Living on his own, Uncle Eli’s health started to decline. I remember visiting him in Cleveland at his apartment there. A scientist, he had a painting of chickens, the only splash of color within a sea of black paint, a representation of an experiment using chickens where those raised with light were healthier and those raised in darkness had defects. I didn’t talk too deeply with Uncle Eli about that painting. He always liked to tell me about the science, but not so much the symbolism. We didn’t ever talk about his time in Italy either. He was a veteran of World War II. When he saw fascism spreading throughout Europe, he enlisted. About the details, I know very little. I only asked him once, and he shook his head.

What I do know about my Uncle Eli is that he came back from that war with a lifelong love of Italy, its culture, its people, the food and the music. I wouldn’t describe him as haunted. I think he saw me as his own grandson, and some things maybe you don’t tell your grandkids about. So I’m not bringing up the painting to describe him. But I think about it often. I see the symbolism.

Just a couple weeks after 9/11, my Uncle Eli died. Many times I have wondered what he thought about in those last weeks of his life. I was so busy at the time that I hadn’t talked to him in a while. Certainly we didn’t talk about 9/11. Did it break his heart, like it did for so many Americans? Did he think maybe, without the love of his life, that there wasn’t much left to hope for? Did he, a vet of the last “Good” War, look at that act of terror and know it would inevitably mean more war? Did he feel like giving up?

On the morning of 9/11/2001, my sister was riding in to work with my father. My sister worked two blocks from the World Trade Center, walking distance. My dad worked across the East River, so he was going to drop her off on the way. True to form, God bless him, Dad was running late, which means by the time that plane hit, he hadn’t yet made the turn off the FDR Drive. My little sister and my dad were less than half a mile away. They both saw it happen. My dad was able to turn around and get my sister home safely. I think about that too. All the time.

I still get angry at myself for not getting into my new Honda Civic and driving back to New York just to check on my sister in person. I would surely have lost that new entertainment-industry job, but that piece of my personality that feels instinctively bound to protect those I care most about would have been satisfied. I think.

I didn’t work that day. I didn’t know what to do. I felt lost. Of course, of course, of course, anything I went through that day and ever afterward is an amoeba’s tear in comparison to those who did lose loved ones, to those who were there and survived traumatized, and to all those who were ruined by the following years, in which America’s callous leadership wreaked immeasurable havoc using that day’s events as their excuse.

But this is me talking. I can only speak for me. And I wonder, twenty years on, in the zoom out, in the bird’s eye view, what effect that day, that month, those three months, had on my life.

I never did get a foothold in Los Angeles. I had plenty of adventures, and made lifelong friends, but I never did settle in and find a real life there. I met one woman I think I could have loved, but I never told her, and now I’ll never know. I came back to New York, eventually. I still don’t have any kind of conventional, fully-realized life. In some ways, I do think of myself as something of a lost soul. I can’t pin that on one day. A lot of things have to happen for someone to become that. Then again… A lot did.

I also have a fair amount of wisdom, and insight, and empathy, and the kind of self-confidence that only comes from life kicking the living shit out of you for more than a decade. I am still, somehow, an idealist. I know how bad things are. Things are in almost every way worse for America than they were on September 10th, September 11th, and September 12th, 2001. I think if there’s a Hell, those who attacked us on 9/11 are down there cackling over how hard America is working to destroy itself, to almost literally tear ourselves apart.

I also think if there’s a Hell, then there would have to be a Heaven, and if that’s the case, then I know who’s up there. And I know that they wouldn’t want me to dwell in the darkness. They’d want me to find the sunlight. There’s strength there. That’s where I might thrive.

Me on September 11th, 2021. I swam in the ocean.

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