outta sight, outta mind


An interesting discussion erupted from yesterday’s post, and yet again, someone mentioned how great it was that “America came together” following the attacks of September 11. I don’t mean to belittle this feeling, because I was there (or quite close), and it felt like the entire world came together for those incredibly surreal days following the event.

But let’s be honest, shall we? On the actual day of September 11 in New York City, the intensity of caring dissipated the farther north you walked; in Chelsea, I remember people still laughing about other topics and actually flirting. It wasn’t until the media started their week-long coverage that everyone in Manhattan suddenly got the enormity of it. Could you entirely blame them? After all, it was something of a binary event: you either knew ten people that died, or else you didn’t even know ANYBODY who knew ANYBODY that died.

And I have to say, it is true that the rest of the country engaged in a civil lovefest unseen in American history before or since. I was in Texas eight days after the event, and when I showed my driver’s license to a shopkeeper, she looked at me in a stunned silence with tears in her eyes, asking me if I was okay. We were objects of talismanic affection for people who had never even been to the City.

But anybody who thinks this moment of national unity was long-lived is fooling themselves. I took another trip about six weeks after 9/11, and by then, the AM airwaves were already burning up with incandescent rage, aching to bomb the holy motherfucking shit out of some Arabs.

For our part, New Yorkers were not that interested in war, not even with Afghanistan. We’d smelled the ashes of 3,000 people, and we were sickened by the whole concept of any more death. I saw the following graffiti in several neighborhoods: “our tears of grief are not cries for war.” That may seem fruity to some of you red-staters, but it was the beginning of the country’s divorce from New York (and reality, but that’s another rant).

Soon thereafter, the government decided to tell New Yorkers to fuck off, and gave friggin’ WYOMING more money to defend themselves. If it weren’t for our stunning home-based terror system – built with scarcely no help from Washington – I wouldn’t even take the subway. As it is, I feel safer than ever, but only because we came to the realization that we are basically going it alone.

Looking back on the episode from the vantage point of three and a half years, I would conservatively suggest that our “national unity” lasted about four weeks, give or take a few days. I wished it had been longer, but our fear was instantly hijacked. I want to remember what that taste of togetherness was like, but now, whenever I hear anybody wax nostalgia about America coming together, my first thought is “yeah, that was a wacky month, wasn’t it?”

Michelle and I pass out salads to victims’ families at the Armory, 9/12/01

0 thoughts on “outta sight, outta mind

  1. Kevin

    Good points all, and you and Tessa are what we Philadelphians like to call “good people”, as in: “That Ian and Tessa, they’re good people.” Sorry, the proper inflection doesn’t translate well over the net . . . BTW, does this correlate in some way to the world uniting with SE ASia’s sorrow, only to have our most excellent leadership in Washington spin it into a PR move in the greater “war on terror”?

  2. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    Just wanted to let you know that the discussion from yesterday’s post was very interesting. . . one of the best I can remember. . . and not even a mention of a B-list celebrity! Ha!
    I have a question for you. Do you think that your thoughts regarding 9/11 (in terms of being anti-war) are representative of how the majority of New Yorkers felt in general? Honestly, up until I started reading your blog, all of the folks in the tri-state area whom I encountered were very much of the “vengeance is mine” mindset. I am from Jersey, and wherever I went, city/town/suburb, the feelings were very pro-Bush/pro-war/pro-USA. This attitude was prevalent among Democrats/Republicans/wealthy/middle class.
    I was frankly startled to see just how anti-war you were, having lived right at the epicenter of it all.

  3. Vaden

    Regarding the time of unconditional love for NYC after 9/11 — what do you think, did that end when Dave and Conan came back on the air? Correlation? I don’t know. Good website dude.

  4. Pearl

    Interesting perspective from the insider. In Canada, it seemed that those who compulsively watched news seemed personally traumatized and angry, others just clucked their tongues and went on with life.
    (delurking after a month os so reading)

  5. Michelle

    To Laurie from Manly Dorm,
    There might have been New Yorkers who wanted blood after 9/11, but I did not know a single one. Not a single one. Anyone with half a brain that I knew in NYC could do the simple math and trace Bush and Co.’s history in the Middle East and see that our country’s policies might have been to blame for the hate that fueled 9/11. Or even if they couldn’t, they somehow understood that a “war on terror” is idiotic as a concept, and impossible to “win”.
    One of my good friends, who is a FDNY firefighter, lost his little brother, a fellow FDNY firefighter, on 9/11. If ever someone had cause to want to fight back, it was him. But even he chose compassion and understanding (coupled with rage and woe) and was against the war.

  6. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    Thanks for your response, Michelle. I was curious. Perhaps the vengeance response I saw was an initial burst of anger. I don’t know. The emotions were so raw, that I may not have seen them play out over time.
    Ian, I am not sure if “outta sight, outta mind” really applies to 9/11. At least I hope not. I, myself, think about 9/11 nearly every day. I still am in shock over it. In fact, you know how people split their lives by a single point in time? Before baby/after baby? Before marriage/after marriage? For me, I view my days as split before 9/11/01 and after 9/11/01.
    Take care and have a good weekend.

  7. Bev Sykes

    We were out of the country on 9/11 (had just landed in London, in fact, when the news broke) and we missed the whole emotional coming together of the country. It was a strange feeling to return 2 weeks later and find that our entire world had changed–and everyone else had had two weeks to adjust to it.

  8. Chris

    Laurie, Michelle, Ian…
    The 2004 electoral map by county reveals the small number of blue counties that are, no doubt, homes to those few opposed to military action in Afghanistan and the larger numbers opposed to U.S. actions in Iraq. These counties tend to be very densely populated.
    Even as the sun set on September 11, the nation was not actually 100% united. In the following weeks, a small percentage of Americans would begin to voice dissent and oppose military action in Afghanistan. Like Ian, they believe it makes no sense to fight (or even criticize) Islamo-fascist terrorists because whatever harm they inflict on the U.S. is primarily its own fault. The important thing to remember is that these people (A.N.S.W.E.R., Susan Sontag, et al.) blamed American *before* September 11, 2001. Out of shock and respect, they briefly delayed openly applying their pre-existing beliefs to these new and horrific events.
    There was little change in the amount of actual unity in the months after 9/11. Only the *conversation* changed as time passed and the shock and horror of the days events dissipated. The new conversation revealed the true divisions behind the united front. Those who tended to blame the U.S. and opposed any U.S. military action began to voice their opinions. Most Americans, proud of their country, warts and all, who believed we had to remove the Taliban and get bin Laden and al-Quaeda, voiced their opinions. Our elected representatives did so, too.
    What was notable at this time was not that, say, 10% blamed the U.S. and opposed its removing the Taliban, or even that 90% of the country was united about anything. Rather, the remarkable thing was that virtually 100% of the country decided to *present a united front* in the days and weeks after September 11.

  9. Chris

    …but when I walked north from the burning WTC site on the early afternoon of September 11, and I reached Houston Street, the southern border of Greenwich Village, I saw the City authorities were using the street as a staging area for hundreds of dump trucks that would carry the debris. A hundred or so feet north of Houston Street, on the east side of 6th Avenue, I reached a restaurant with an open air cafe, where the tables were full of stylishly-attired, bohemian types — many European — who were eating and drinking wine and chatting…


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