Saturday, September 10, 2011
A very dead day for news
September 11 is to my generation what the assassination of JFK was to the previous one. We all remember what we were doing on September 11, 2001.
I recall being in an interview with Press Association; I wanted a job, the news editor didn't seem to want to give me one; the power was all his and I didn't get a job. I got bought off with a promise of work experience.
Meanwhile out there in the big world beyond my crushed ego America seemed to have all the power and the tall buildings. But something very strange and sinister was about to happen out of a beautiful blue sky.
"It's a very dead news day," the news editor told me. As he uttered those words the first jet was already moments away from crashing into the North Tower.
This was American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767-223 with a capacity for 158 passengers with 92 on board, that had left Boston's Logan International Airport at 7.59 a.m. At 8:49 a.m. it crashed into the North Tower. It's hard to imagine the terror on board a flight of passengers who had only recently woken up to realize their lives were going to end. There was no time even for a final coffee and even if they had time to realize they were going to be forever a part of history, the thought would have been scant recompense for losing their lives in such a callous way.
I took the tube back to Bank where my wife to be was working at the offices of a Canadian company at the same time as the men in red scarves were terrorising two flights with razor blades. She wasn't my wife at that point. I can't recall if my divorce papers had come through but by a quirky trick of fate 9/11 was our wedding anniversary. I don't recall much about my former wife now, although I remember her bra size.
At Leadenhall Market I noticed a large crowd of people in a bar around a TV set. I assumed they were watching cricket, although I had no logical reason to make this assumption.
Leadenhall Market always made me think of Rory, a character who worked with my wife with a curious faux Italian accent that made him sound retarded. "Fishmooonger," he'd say, drawing out the vowels. He's show his dedication to his wife by buying expensive fish from the market. However, he'd undermine it somewhat by boasting about Rachel, a "gorgeous" woman from his gym who he was having an affair with.
When Rory's wife found out he ended up with a lamp wrapped round his head. It was somewhat fitting as I believe he came from Milan where the models would wear hats that looked like Rory's accident.
But when we entered the office Rory didn't want to boast about being a sex god with a funny accent. He seemed agitated.
"Two planes have flown into the World Trade Center and a tower has fallen down," he blurted.
"No way." Frankly we didn't believe him but nor was this the sort of thing you'd make up.
So I listened to the radio as the South Tower fell. And I found a TV to watch New York wrapped in smoke. And I shuddered and felt chilled to the core because less than two years earlier I had been up in the Windows of the World and on the roof of the World Trade Center that was so much higher than anything around. And I had thought at the time there could be nothing more terrifying than jumping from those towers, that looked onto the roofs of skyscrapers far below.
But people did.
We spent much of the day trying to talk to relatives in America. But the lack of phone lines added to the feeling of Armageddon. And there was still a hijacked plane up there.
I'm not sure if I can see the bigger picture of 9/11. Did it mark the turning point in America's future and the beginning of a long decline? Or did it mark the moment that America woke up and united again.? Ironically it may have marked the moment the fortunes of the extremists also turned because people abhorred the horror of this day. The Battle of Little Big Horn may have been Sitting Bull's finest hour but it also sealed his fate.
I don't really know the answer to this question but I know it marked the day when the Medieval savagery of Kabul and Mogadishu came to downtown New York. Out on the streets of the Square Mile people cringed at the sight of airplanes flying low overhead and groups of people hugged and wept in the street. Many of those big corporations in the center of London had offices in the Twin Towers.
I was glued to the TV but the events took on an air of unreality toward the evening. My thoughts strayed, I had a couple of beers and it was as if 9/11 had never happened. On the tube I even found myself in a jocular mood.
Then a complete stranger informed me I was annoying him and suggested I stepped out for a fight. The terror would come to the Underground too and when it did it was a lot more awful than a guy seeking a flight.
For me 9/11 was the start of a new climate of fear although history can teach us this is nothing new. But I started to get used to that sickening feeling of horrified fascinaton with the news from Madrid, London, New York, Bali, Egypt or Mumbai. 9/11 is confirmation that our cosy notions of civilisation exist only to a point; it's confirmation that the unexpected can happen and there's an inexplicable darkness in the human soul that may take us by surprise when it bursts out of a clear blue September morning.