Thursday, September 11, 2008

Today In History...

Every generation has its Kennedy moment. Its "Where were you when...?" frozen for an instant in time. Briefly, I thought mine would be an Uzi-waving man in a sportscoat in front of a hotel, the class bully poking small kids in the chest on the middle school bus and demanding in an accusatorial tone "Why did you shoot Reagan?"

Then, for just over a decade and a half, it was an awful morning in front of a television during my senior year in high school, watching the vapor trails of disintegrating dreams fade in the impossibly clear blue of an oddly frozen Florida sky.

Seven years ago I parked my battered TransAm in front of Montague Gunsmithing. I was early. Only the owner was there before me, and I let myself in to see him sitting, staring at a small television set, looking out of place there on the sales floor, trailing its extension cord from the showcases back into the break room. I was all excited because of a phone call from my lawyer the previous afternoon. "Hey, Ken! My check should be here tomorrow!"

"Some idiot in a Learjet just flew into the World Trade Center. They shouldn't outta let those tourist pilots fly low over New York."

"Huh? Are you sure?"

"Look at the TV."

And so that morning's drama unfolded...

We sold out of our meager stock of AR-15s pretty quick that day. One regular customer, a lawyer who was mostly interested in antique double-barrel fowling pieces came in. "I want one of those assault rifle-y things. In .223."

"Jack, I don't think the Arabs are coming here on their camels."

"I know. I just want to do something."

We sold him a pre-ban Mini-14. It was the last semiauto rifle left in the store. Then he cleaned us out of our remaining stock of .223 ammunition.

My roommate, Marko, had blown out of work for the day. Most folks had, it seems, and were just milling about. Seeking friends. Seeking television screens. Seeking news. Seeking some damn sense to the whole thing.

Walk-in traffic petered out at the shop as the afternoon wore on. Marko and I stepped out for a late lunch. The food court was out, since West Town Mall was closed. "They're hitting the great symbols of American commerce and power," I joked to my roomie "The World Trade Center, the Pentagon... West Town Mall in Knoxville is obviously next."

We sat at the local sports bar, both on the same side of the table for a better view of the tube. The big screen that normally showed happy throngs at sporting events now showed a gaping canker in Manhattan, a smoking corpsefield where thriving businesses used to be. Both towers were flattened. WTC 7 smoldered fitfully. A camera briefly showed the gaping wound on its backside. "Oh, yeah," I remarked to Marko, "that's comin' down." I got back to the shop to find it had. We closed early.

My boss wanted to nuke Riyadh. His son joined the Army. Good friends marched to the sound of the drums. Ridiculous legislation got passed. The world changed, and yet life went on. And here I am, seven years later, seven years older. And all I remember every year on this day is how ashamed I felt that my first worry was "Dammit, my check's going to be late."

That, and an angry, confused-looking older man buying a gun he didn't like, explaining sheepishly that he wanted to do something...


Anonymous said...

It was indeed a day to take stock of what we had, looking towards a future that had just arrived.


Anonymous said...


In crisis like that, you and the Mini-14 gent simply did what came as a reflex - to evaluate the bare necessities needed in case the entire infracture collapses. That check you were waiting on would have paid for food and water and ammo.

The Mini-14 gent bought the gun out of his sense of self-preservation. I could understand, because I went and did the same thing and bought my first rifle. Granted, it was only a tube-fed Remington .22, but hey, I didn't know any better what to buy. But it was cheap and I could buy 500 round bricks of ammo cheap.

So don't beat yourself up anymore about that. (((hugs)))

Old NFO said...

Thank you for remembering.

Anonymous said...

I remember an absence of airplanes in the sky for a long time. I remember seeing helicopters in our area--OH-60s--and thinking about the ancient city-state of Sparta and not liking it one little bit.

I remember being happy the first time I saw an airliner after that absence, and remember how odd it felt that I should be happy at seeing commercial airliners.

I found myself thinking about my daughter and saying, in my mind and aloud, "I wonder what the future holds."

Seven years on and I see what the future holds. We'll be fine.


Anonymous said...

--As you were: UH-60s. My bad.

Anonymous said...

I call my CZ75 B My salute to September 11 paranoia. At least it's a nice gun.

NotClauswitz said...

I remember driving to work along the flight path to SFO as the airplanes all landed and stopped flying, and hummers guarding the approaches to the Golden Gate Bridge - manned by guys with no magazines and empty guns because this is Liberalville.

Unknown said...

I remember it being only the second time in my life I've seen my Dad cry. The first was when his Mom died. This time it was angry, raging tears and it scared me as much as seeing the Pentagon scarred and wounded.

José Giganté said...

You must be the same age as me (39) as our "moments" are eerily similar. I will never forget watching live TV as the 62 innocent souls of Flight 175 lost their lives as the 767 slammed into tower 2. The realization of what happened affected me profoundly and immediately. I went to work, just because I had to do something besides gape at the TV.

I also remember long lines at the gas station because they raised gas to $1.70. Oddly, if anyone were selling gas now for $1.70, it'd be bedlam as well.

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

I remember hearing MORE jets in the sky, that day and after. They sounded different because they weren't multi-engine passenger planes but single engine jets out of Andrews and Bolling AFB.

And for months, people flew flags. More than I have ever seen before of since.

Anonymous said...

I watched the whole thing on the tube at the gym where I worked at the time. I'm still eating crow, as when they locked the Armories down I kept saying "What are you dumbasses thinkin? We're not goin' anywhere..." So much for the wisdom of the silverback.

Anonymous said...

Remembering lots of things; ABC's morning show playing their stupid new theme music "Good things are happening", watching the camera follow the second jet as it banked in toward its' target, and thinking that I had flown over NYC exactly one week prior. And, of course, wondering what was to be next.

At work, our boss ordered us to remain at our desks so everybody sat at their computers hitting refresh on one news service website or another. I interleaved refreshes with thinking that I needed to get home and clean the shotguns. They didn't need it; I did.

Later, I would find that two from my company had been aboard flights 11 and 175 when they hit the North and South towers. My team leader was missing for several days and we worried about him. He was returning from meetings in Paris and was in mid-Atlantic when the world changed. We finally found out that his airliner had stopped in Canada and somebody forgot to call his hotel when they loaded back up to come on home so he drove a rental car from Toronto to Texas.

Mostly, I remember thinking that there would be no more "sit quietly in your seat and let the nice hijacker do whatever he wants".

Chip said...

We got called back to work that day. We watched the news relentlessly trying to find out who was next, was it over? The firehuse I work at is a few miles from one of the runways at Ohare outside of Chicago. For many days instead of non stop overhead planes there were just two. An AWACS radar plane and its fighter escort flying a racetrack pattern over my hometown. I remember cheering when the first airliner flew over after flights resumed. We participated in a remembrance ceremony this morning, like firehouse all over the country and many citizens took the time to join us. Thank you all.

Anonymous said...

I remember watching the smoke from my front window.

I remember losing all cellphone service.

I remember worrying about my friends who worked there.

staghounds said...

Don't feel bad about your forbidden thought, I had some too. One was a sense of admiration of the brilliance of the stroke, like Pearl Harbor. And thinking, "There's no way to respond to this. It could have been any random four men who did it."

And since I was flying to Turkey shortly, wondering how that would be fouled up.

I remember being able to do one good thing that day. A co worker was crying and crying, no one would go near her. I found out it was because she had a daughter in the City, and people were afraid- didn't know what to say.

Since I'd been there a lot, I went over and asked where the daughter was. She told me she was a student at Julliard. I asked if she lived near school, and she said yes, two blocks away.

"Your daughter is completely in the clear. She's miles away, that's a completely different area, she's safe there. She will barely see the smoke."

I never saw such relief on another person.

And I remember the flags, too. Ever since then, I've wondered why this wasn't on every radio. It choked me up before, but It always puts me back in those days.

breda said...

I remember the morning after - the realization that it was real, that these things had actually happened was like a punch in the gut. I stayed in bed, sobbing.

Anonymous said...

I was working midtown manhattan. worked until 2pm when we were let go, waited around on 43rd street looking up at tall buildings, and listening to the fighter jets above, until the Central Terminal got it's act together and figured out all the false bomb threats and loaded all the outgoing trains as locals to the burbs. Helped a pregnant lady with a pram and kid off the platform at my stop.

I thought "thank goodness the weather is so nice, this sucks enough without a cold rain"

Got real tired of the looping video and ignorant Newscasters filling air-time with speculation.

Don said...

I remember smart-ass 8th-graders filing in for 2nd period English and telling me that everyone else had their teevees on because an airplane had flown into the World Trade Center.

I told them that wasn't funny. I didn't believe them.

At the time, people still thought the first plane was an accident. It was horrible, but it wasn't a basic shift in the way their world worked. Horrible accidents happened.

It seemed like it was only a few seconds after they talked me into switching the TV on that the second plane hit. I don't remember whether we saw it live or as a replay, but we saw it.

There were remarkably few questions that day. We followed our bell schedule, but it didn't matter. Nobody was trying to teach anything. We all had CNN or FOX on, so the kids moved from room to room, but it was the same everywhere: sit in clusters on desks and tables and watch the television. Then the end of the day came and we sent them home so their parents could do their best.

Anonymous said...

I really thought the planes were a dramatic prelude to the coup de grace that they had in mind, like the hanging the banderillas on the back of the bull in a bull fight, before the bull fighter finally drives in the punal. I thought the Big One was coming up, either in Chicago or L.A. No, the enemy couldn't be so stupid as to injure us, but leave us intact to wreck hell in return.

Well, a) they were that stupid, and b) we never really gave them hell in return.

Anonymous said...

My son's Spanish teacher walked in and turned off the TV, as it wasn't "that important".
Friend had a caller several days later ask where the material we were sending her FedEx was. Was told deliveries had been delayed because of 9-11. Caller asked why that should affect her. Friend broke the headset, slamming it against her desk.
Never, ever forget.

Jay G said...

I remember being angry.

I never stopped.

I remember thinking that we needed to turn some Middle Eastern real estate into 50,000ºF glass.

I bought a shotgun. What the hell a Winchester 1300 was going to do against terrorists in airplanes I'll never know...

DoubleTapper said...

Here in Israel, we remember the attacks of 911. We also remember the reactions of our “Peace Partners”.

DoubleTapper, blogging on Guns Politics Defense from Israel

Anonymous said...

I was stationed in Korea at the time. Had the day off to watch a football game live on AFN. That night, went to our units hootch to watch the primetime replay. Had a good snoot full of beer and headed back to my room across the steet.

When I got there, I turned on my TV. It had just started. I watched the replay of the first strike, then sat there dumbstruck as the second one hit.

I called my flt commander to see if he'd seen what was going on. When I hung up the phone, they announced the Pentagon had been hit.

I quickly dressed and went in to work to stand up our control center. I wouldn't get to sleep until almost 11 the next morning.

We worked 12 hr shifts for the next 2 weeks and were confined to base for the next 3 months.

When I got home from the hootch I was happily intoxicated. When the second plane hit, I was stone sober. No, I will never forget that day or where and what I was doing.

Anonymous said...

Oh, shit.
I remember laughing a minute or so before the first tower fell.
I thought "You've done your worst and it's still standing."
After the horror of knowing it wasn't an accident, believing it was winding down was a relief.
Then the tower started to fall.
It seemed to take forever.

Anonymous said...

I was home sick that day, so I was asleep when the fist plane hit. My GF came in and said my sister had called,an airplane just hit the Trade Center. I remember saying big deal, an Army bomber hit the Empire state Bldg in 1947(it was actually 1945).
She said this was a commercial airliner.
I got downstairs in time to see the second plane hit, then tried to call my sister, since my niece worked in NYC.
All circuits busy. !@#$%^&* - that's what teh Intarw3bz is for. I emailed her, and she responded almost immediately. We corresponded the whole day like that.
She said she called her daughter and told her to turn on the workroom TV, so daughter got to watch it, too. When the boss dismissed everyone, she had to walk 50 blocks(the long ones) to the ferry. When the official with the clipboard found out she worked near the trade Center, she got sprayed down with a fire hose before allowing her to board the ferry.
GF and I sat and watched like a couple of stunned hamsters for half a day, turning it off when the talking heads started interviewing each other.