I, like everybody else, remember what I was doing the morning of 9/11/01. At the time the planes hit the towers, I was lazying around in bed, trying to figure out whether I would finally get up and get some coffee going, or just forget about it, see if I had enough energy for a wank, or to pick up the book I had been reading –The Red and the Black, Stendhal- or if I would just roll over and go back to sleep.
I was about to turn 30 in a few weeks, worked late nights making coffee drinks, was expecting my first son to be born soon, from a woman who reminded me of another woman of many years before, and who kept threatening to move out of Florida before the boy was born, so I’d never meet him.
Other people were well on their way to become millionaires, or academics, by that age. I was dealing with an espresso machine and a crazy redheaded woman who wasn’t even the original thing, but a pale copy of it. Oh well.
It was a small flat I was renting at the time, in the old part of town. It had a kitchenette, a bathroom, some random furniture bought at Goodwill or WalMart. I couldn’t even fill the small closet with the few clothes I had. I had a plastic folding table with my then-brand-new bubble iMac on it, a scanner and a printer, as I was doing some freelance design gigs back then to supplement my income from the lattes and cappuccinos. The computer was internet enabled, through a painfully slow 56k modem connection.
My cell phone, the first I had ever owned, a very basic Nokia, rang, as I was pondering what to do with my morning. It was my old grade school mate, Enzo, who also had moved to Florida recently. Our porteño accent was still quite intact back then, and he screamed into the phone in his rapid-fire Argie Spanish:
– Are you awake?
– Not really, dude
– Turn your TV on!
– I don’t have a TV
– Fire up your computer, then. Welcome to the 21st century…
Wondering what the fuck was wrong with him, I sat at the plastic table and waited as the computer went through the litany of beeps and screeches it needed to go through before connecting. The New York Times page took forever to load, as I tried to imagine what the hell could be the matter. A new chapter in the Gore-Bush saga? Nah, that had been over for a while now, and the Chimp had won.
Then I saw the headlines, and spent about an hour going from website to website, NYT to CNN to BBC. After that, I just turned the thing off and felt so very sad for my son who wasn’t born yet. I felt the need for drugs, any drugs, but didn’t have any. I had enough problems here to expose myself to being busted for scoring dime bags in the ghetto. I opened the fridge and all I saw was a half-eaten can of refried beans, some stale tortillas and a peach preserve probably gone bad a while ago.
I put on some clothes and washed my face, brushed my teeth and walked downstairs. I found an open bar and sat on a stool, ordered a beer in the best American accent I could muster, and just sat there, between a guy wearing a suit and tie and drinking rye before noon, and a construction-type fellow drinking Cokes, staring at the big TV screen, just like everybody else. Nobody said much. I know I didn’t. I was still very self conscious about my accent, and figured it probably wasn’t the best time to sound anything foreign, even though very little was known about what the hell was going on that morning.
I still think not a whole lot is known about what happened then. I mean the Arabs and boxcutters story is a good starting point, I guess, but there’s so much shit bobbing just under the surface of that tale, that you don’t even wanna go there most days. I mean there’s all these well intentioned, obsessive characters, still delving into the minutiae of what happened 40+ years ago, when JFK was shot in Texas, and living in a parallel universe of their own, hoping against hope that each year will be the one that brings the Truth to light, year in, year out… I think early on, drinking beer at that bar in Florida, I decided that, number 1, what I was seeing on CNN had to go several layers of shit deeper than some morons expecting an eternity of virgins fucking them in paradise, and number 2, that I wouldn’t get sucked into that particular controversy. As you approach 30, you suddenly realize your energy is limited, after all.
So I drank a few beers in silence, and walked back to my flat. The street felt eerily like other streets, laden with tension and paranoia – the streets of my South American childhood, just before of after a coup d’etat, when common citizens hurry to the stores to stock up on rice and canned foods. The streets of San Cristobal, during the Zapatista thing in Chiapas, the streets of Tel Aviv after that prime minister was shot, or maybe the streets of the former Yugoslavia, after the bloodbaths of the 90’s. Americans, I thought, contemporary Americans, Americans my age, don’t really know that feeling – of all that’s solid, vanishing into thin air.
OK, there was no particular high demand for non-perishable items that I could notice, and the liquor store was well-stocked with bourbon, so after a brief stop there, it was time to shut myself off, close the door and sit by the window, look at passersby and have a drink.
At some point, my phone rang again, and it was this other woman, Pilar, the one with the Caribbean wide hips and the beautiful face and singsong accent, that I had met just recently, as things were falling apart with the one about to become the mother of my son. She was wondering how I was doing, and I said fine. She told me if I had any plans for the night, and I said no.
– Do you want to come over to my place and maybe stay for the night?
– Sure, but I can’t drive right now.
– I see. I’ll pick you up after work.
We had a bite to eat, and after that, I stepped outside to smoke some weed with her brother, as I always did when I was there. They lived together, the brother was OK I guess, still wore his pants hanging down low so you could see his underpants and liked to posture a bit and pretend he was a tough kid as he was rolling his blunts, but was growing out of that fast. Soon, too soon, he’d have a pregnant woman of his own to worry about. So we had a smoke, talked a bit about the events of the day – I sensed his anger, and wondered how much of that was building up, like a toxic cloud, all over and above the United States. I couldn’t find much anger in me, just the sadness.
I finally crashed in Pilar’s bed as she watched telenovelas, very drunk, and my last memory of that day is the sonic boom of fighter jets flying high above Florida, patrolling the skies for more Arabs with boxcutters I suppose. I don’t think I fucked her that night, but I could be wrong.