Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Cheapening

135 The Cheapening

The Vietnam vets have a saying, “If you weren’t there, you don’t get it.” Same is so of the 9/11 attacks in New York. With a twist: if you WERE there, you can’t explain it.

The bombing sight stank. It still stinks. You had to smell it. And you could. Miles north in Harlem and Washington Heights you could smell it. Midtown. The fashionable and hideously expensive upper east and upper west sides. You could smell it across the water east in Queens and south in Brooklyn. Pretty much everywhere.

And pretty much everyone in town lost someone. Some colleagues: John Tucker’s brother (no names have been changed.) Rachel Uchitel’s fiancé. Several thousand others.

Now, first-arrivers and survivors are suing the city over health care and the city is fighting back. This is not the city of the strutting Mayor Rudy. This is the city of the benevolent and understanding Mike Bloomberg.

Now, ABC is broadcasting a mini series about the thing, and the focus is on the TV version, more than on the real events five years ago. Each of the strident political factions is trying to make the other look bad over the debate.

What schlock mini series do we need? CNN carried the whole thing live. Half of Manhattan could see it from the window. We don’t need the Zapruder film or the talk show hosts to tell us what went on. We felt the ground shake, saw the planes hit, smelled the stench, washed the debris and the toxic dust out of our clothing.

We made or received the phone calls that went, invariably, like this:

Caller: turn on your TV.

Callee: What channel?

Caller: Any channel, every channel.

Some of us had never been to the Trade Center. One of us called the buildings “the ugliest skyscrapers ever.” Said since the day they were first suggested that they never should have been built. Just another penis size contest. The Empire State Building doesn’t have to be the tallest to be the best or the most important. The Chrysler Building will always be the prettiest.

But once the buildings were up, still ugly as hell, they were up and part of the bedrock. Then they weren’t. The disappearance made a difference after we became accustomed to them being there.

The politicians fight about what kind of memorial should be there. The only meaningful one would have been a plaque, maybe a wall of names – the dead and the heroes. They should have left the rest as it landed.

Conspiracy theories: the buildings, say the theorists, could not have collapsed merely because they were hit by planes. It had to be more, they tell us. Maybe. But we have to make hideous events even more hideous. Otherwise, they become trivial over time. The Kennedy assassination. The Hoffa disappearance. The murder of Jonbenet Ramsey.

And is it wrong to hold all Muslims responsible for the attack and come to hate them? Probably it is. But it’s easier to do that than not to. More convenient. More settling. We need scapegoats. And this case is easy.

How about blaming ourselves? That, too, is easy.

The mini series, the memorial, the ceremonies, the politics. Cheap.

You had to be there.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2006 WJR

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