Thursday, October 05, 2006

Travels In The United, Divided States

This is an article from the September 6, 2004 issue of New York Magazine, when New York was getting ready for the Republican Convention. It's part of a collection of articles by Mark Jacobson called "Teenage Hipster in the Modern World." Jacobson went to visit delegates in their home towns as a welcoming committee to New York. When I read this I thought, "Yeah, that's it; that's what I was thinking back then," and "Geez, I shoulda seen this a month ago, on the anniversary of 9/11":

While the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty were pretty cool, everyone agreed the city’s number No. 1 attraction was ground zero.

“Right,” Sheri said. “That place belongs to all Americans.”

This was the commentary that tried the resolve of even the most committed New York City missionaries. Because I didn’t feel like ground zero belonged to “all Americans,” certainly not the sort of “all-Americans” who took it as a moral imperative to keep George Bush in the White House. Ground zero belonged to New York, to the people who died there and their families, to those who rode the F train every morning and never once looked at the skyline without noting the absence of those not particularly beloved buildings looming over the Brooklyn Bridge.

It was a question everyone asked out here: Where were you that day? I had a compelling answer, or at least one people usually find compelling. Because I was there. Not when the planes hit, or when the buildings fell, but a couple hours later, when, in the horror and confusion, no one kept me from walking through the twisted rubble, right to the pile of dust that would come to be called ground zero. “Where are the buildings? Where are the people?” I asked a weary firefighter. “Under your shoe,” was the answer.

I told my WTC story to the delegates because—more than what restaurant to eat in or what play to see—this seemed to be what they really wanted to know about New York. Reliving that day is always emotional for me, and hearing about it was emotional for the delegates. If there was any real bond between us, it started there, as legitimate as it was that day.

Yet I begrudged them their emotion, their sense of outrage that 9/11 had been an attack on them, too, a thousand miles from the half-empty firehouse of Squad One. Perhaps it was provincial—should only Hawaiians have been pissed about Pearl Harbor?—but it bothered me that 9/11 had redefined the city in the minds of those who hitherto would have agreed with John Rocker’s assessment of the 7 train.

It has been declared sacred ground, a place of pilgrimage, separate from the real city. For many, Republican delegates certainly included, ground zero has acquired the patina of a Revelations-style Valley of Decision, with the steel girder “cross” found in the wreckage taken as proof of where God’s allegiance lies in the War on Terror. Don’t they know that cross is a fireman’s cross, a cop’s cross, an ironworker’s cross—a Democratic cross, if it’s any kind of cross at all?

Disclaimer that I really shouldn't be giving anymore because I'm getting too old to be caring about stuff like people not liking me and calling me names:

I voted for Giuliani twice and Bloomberg twice, although not on the same day;

I'm pro-Israel;

I'm the child of a steamfitter and a secretary, and I attended a State University;

I'm 52, not some little Marxist snotnose;

I was for the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan;

I'm probably inviting attacks from the left now because I'm writing this, which is a reaction to having been attacked by a rightie some months ago. I don't care. Who are you anyway; do you put food on my table and pay my health insurance?


Yes, I'm being thin-skinned today. Sometimes I get mad and take things personally, just like you. Read the description of this blog.

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