I still get whiffs of ozone every now and then through the window. People speak of feeling numb, but the most numbing thing is to hear people on TV speak so mournfully, then break to commercials for shampoo and contact lens cleaner.
Things are really not so different than they were 2 weeks ago. There are fewer cars on the downtown streets, and village bars that normally sell beer for $5 per glass have $1 and $2 drafts and $0.15 chicken wings because fewer people have been going out. But people don’t instinctively look up now when they hear airplanes overhead.
The incident (which doesn’t have a real name; it wasn’t a ‘bombing’, but more than just some ‘plane crashes’, and ‘attack’ doesn’t completely describe the event) is still the main topic of conversation – what to rebuild on the site, what the consequences of military action will be. However, I now hear people arguing over trivial things. In the first few days, I spent nearly every waking minute with the circumstances in my awareness somehow – but now I only think about it about a third of the time.
People have more distance now, and now status is based on how close one has been able to get to “ground zero”. My boss’ son attended Stuyvesant High School which is just across the street from the WTC, but the school will be closed for the next few months. They went to the school one day to clean out the locker, and he got to be within a couple blocks. So of course we all stood around in a circle grasping for every word. I for one, am eager to hear anything other than the televised melodrama of flag-waving and weepers.
On one news show was a reporter looking at some rubble saying “A simple rag doll. All that remains. Of the people who once worked. And lived. Here.” I couldn’t stand it.
The truth is that most New Yorkers, let alone Americans, were never in any danger during the entire event, and most were not even inconvenienced. 10 times more people die each year from drunk driving, yet terrorism is treated like a bigger threat. I guess because it’s preferable to kill thousands of foreigners than to try to change behavior. It’s preferable to invade than to just pull troops out of Saudi Arabia and apologize for damaging the image of Mecca and Medina. America has been a bully for a long time, and I think everyone who has ever been bullied sympathizes to some degree with the Afghans, while those who have been bullies are the ones arguing for war.
The Columbine shootings, and similar episodes which now seem part of an epidemic, are more of a threat to American school kids than terrorism is, yet in response to which nothing was done or is done. But those shootings were motivated by the same feelings as last Tuesday’s attack: a small group resented being marginalized by an arrogant, affluent, aggressive group – and couldn’t take it any more. The name of the U.S. military retaliation, “Operation Infinite Justice”, shows that America is still incredibly arrogant, not realizing that the plan, “To rid the world of evil” is the objective of both sides of the conflict.
I feel like a curmudgeon when I see all the patriotic images, but I think all the fear and sadness is self-indulgent: focusing on one’s own emotions rather than the real issues. I find myself humming tunes such as “God bless America”. But that’s because I hear them all the time these days.
$5 is the universal price for souvenirs now. In addition to so much else, I also don’t like the crassness downtown; postcards that have the image of the towers go for $5, and tourists take pictures of everything, even of the funeral processions around town. I guess they want every image they can get of every attack-themed scene. Last week, some theaters had free movies, since no one was going and they were losing money, but the popcorn was still $5 for a large. Last Wednesday, the Times ran out of issues quickly. A few entrepreneurs bought thousands of copies, in order to sell them as souvenirs. Most people aren’t sad or afraid, they just see an opportunity to make a few dollars.
A lot of rats were displaced by the building collapses, and have moved north. Some of these are 5 or 6 pounds, and I’ve seen many more than usual downtown, both live and dead. They may have been attracted to the stench of fruit and fish stores and groceries that hurriedly abandoned stores a week ago, and left perishables locked up unrefrigerated for several days.
It is a little freaky working at the UN. They still have lots of extra security, and still have salt-spreaders full of sand blocking off the streets around the Secretariat. The easiest job is that of the dudes sitting in the trucks, backing up to let occasional police cars through. I learned that there was a plan in 1993 to bomb both the WTC and the UN, but the UN attack was thwarted. There was a suspected attack at the UN last Wednesday, and the terribly inadequate evacuation measures scared many people more than the actual threat of an attack. Fortunately I work across the street from the Secretariat.
I remember sitting next to a cricket player a few weeks ago on the plane from London to Bahrain in the UAE. We discussed my job at the UN, and it was clear that he felt that the UN was just a tool of the US, and that Arab countries could not trust the actions of either organization. It was interesting to visit the airports in Nepal, the UAE, England, and the US during my trip. JFK airport was the only one that had totally incompetent people working in every capacity, who didn’t even try to look at my bag, who let the restrooms fester, and got angry with me whenever I had a question. The airport in Abu Dhabi had the most courteous and helpful staff, as well as the most armed guards – but also most obnoxious kids running circles around their oblivious parents.