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Monthly Archives: September 2015

Neighborhoods New York – Tottenville, Staten Island

I had a friendly competition with one of my childhood playmates as we were growing up – we kept a running tally of who had been the furthest north, south, east, and/or west of our little street.  First she claimed the “west” trophy because she’d been to Chicago; then I took it when my family went to Tucson.  We both went to Florida so we had a big debate about “south”, and she claimed the “north” trophy with a trip to Boston until I took it with a trip to Maine.  Then I claimed “south” with a high school trip to Puerto Rico.  But then when she went on an honors club trip to Moscow, and nabbed north, east, and west all in one fell swoop, I called the game quits.

But that’s always put me in mind of those kind of cardinal extremes like that – the furthest fringes of a place.  And Tottenville also holds three trophies in one fell swoop – it’s not only New York City’s westernmost point, it’s also the city’s southernmost point – as well as being the southernmost point of New York State.  Worth a visit yeah?

…Well, kinda.  The fringes of a place also can be a bit…sleepy. The public transit can be nil, the big attractions and businesses are closer to the center, and usually all you find is a whole lot of houses and not a whole lot of people.

In Tottenville, though, they’ve at least tried to spin the houses.  Just a block from the train station, someone had set out a basket full of walking-tour maps, free to anyone who wanted to explore some of the Historic Houses Of Amboy Avenue.  Even though an old man stood in the doorway of the house watching me suspiciously, I took one.  The house wasn’t on Amboy Avenue yet – but it still sported a small sign on the lawn reading that it was part of the Tottenville Historic Society’s “Neighborhood Pride” program.  The part of the Amboy Avenue Tour I followed was short – only the last few blocks west to the water.  Most of the houses pointed out were older things, from the early 19th Century; little two-story buildings, lovingly kept up by their owners.  A surprising number belonged to former ship captains or boatmen – not surprising given given Tottenville’s history and marina, but surprising that a shipbuilder could have bought himself anything so fine as the brick Victorian house I passed towards the end of my tour, all gingerbread trim and stately porches.

The more recent houses along the water looked to be all McMansions, sadly; huge towering sprawling houses with huge garages and big columns, fake marble statues in the birdbaths.  One house was so grand that I mistook it for the Conference House, a historic landmark that was supposed to be right by the water.  I followed the long driveway towards the house, looking at the towering three-story white building with the grand porch ahead of me; it wasn’t until I was nearly at the front porch that I realized that a historic house most likely wouldn’t have pink flowered plastic upholstery on the porch furniture, or a hibachi over on the side lawn.

Oops.  I started backing away, then saw a plaque on a stone in the garden declaring that it was a memorial garden kept by the Raritan Women’s Committee.  So…maybe this was a public place anyway.  I still played it safe and stuck to the grounds, following a stone staircase through the woods and down the steep hillside to Raritan Bay, just behind the house.

I lingered a bit at the water’s edge, watching a huge ferry boat trying to do a three-point turn in the channel. Perth-Amboy was just across from me, no more than 150 yards; if the bay were to freeze, I could have walked it easily.  Instead I wandered the water’s edge a bit, looking for another path up and away from shore.  I didn’t find one – but I did find some sort of outsider-art lounge, a little clearing right where the tree line ended where someone had lashed together logs to make a rustic fence complete with gate.  Another framework of logs stood beside it making a sort of wall which was hung all over with bottles dangling from strings – water bottles, baby bottles, pint-size Jack Daniels bottles.  A tree next to the fence was also covered with bottles, all of them spray-painted neon colors and hung up on the tree like demented Christmas ornaments.  A couple of big logs lay under the tree, huddled near a fire ring.  I mentally saluted the creators as I turned to go.

I did eventually find the Conference House, which turned out to be a much more modest stone house in a big bayside park.  The house stood at the top of a hill and had a wonderfully sweeping view of Raritan Bay, and a few couples dotted the hill, their lawn chairs set up under trees so they could watch the water.  A lively older guy sat on the steps as I walked up, talking to a taller guy dressed all in black; he stopped when he saw me coming.  “Hi, can I help you?” he asked.

“Yeah, can I…go in?”

“Well, I can give you a guided tour,” he offered.  “You want a tour?”  I hesitated for a second – I usually like to explore places on my own.  But the taller guy piped up and said sure, he’d go on the tour, so I shrugged and said I’d join them – at least I wouldn’t be the only one.

And fortunately, Dennis – for he introduced himself then – was a heck of a fun guide; a really lively and animated volunteer, who took pride in the place and about how much there was to know about it.  The Conference House, as Dennis explained, used to belong to one Captain Billop, who ran the surrounding land as his plantation – “and I mean a plantation in every sense of the word,” Dennis added.  But in the very beginning of the Revolutionary War, it was the site of an early peace conference between two British military leaders, the Howe brothers, who met with Benjamin Franklin, Sam Adams, and Edward Rutledge to imply that the Colonial forces were vastly outnumbered and should pack it in.  Dennis was visibly having fun acting out the Continental representatives’ approach to the house – gesturing out at the lawn before us, telling us to imagine the field covered with British and Hessian soldiers jeering at Franklin and Adams – “and here was Howe standing here in the door,” he chuckled, folding his arms and trying to act smug, “standing right like this, just watching them…”

The whole house took up only about four or five rooms; two on the ground floor, three on the second, a cramped attic for the servants’ quarters and a basement he called “the factory”.  He had great sympathy for the servants, telling us about the heat or the cold they had to face in the attic and how they had to work to produce all the family’s goods, sometimes running down to flag down the ships entering the bay to trade with them directly. One of those servant girls, he said, may have eventually betrayed Billop to the Union Army towards the end of the war – he was just arrived home after a long night and gone to sleep when the Union Army came to take him away to a prison for several months.  The thing was, Dennis said, that right when he got home and collapsed into his room, one of the servant girls inexplicably got up herself and lit a candle in the front room on the second floor; and the Union Army came soon thereafter.  “So it was probably a signal,” he said.  That story has spawned a further story, he added, that Billop cornered that servant girl when he was finally released from prison and beat her to death, and that her ghost now haunts the house.  “But that’s just on Tuesday nights,” Dennis said wryly; he talked about the Ghost Hunters shows coming to investigate the house, but it seems he takes a dim view of the haunting claims.

A whole big family was waiting at the door when Dennis brought us back to the start, so I left him to his next guests and went wandering a bit in the park.  Conference House Park is far enough away from most roads and the JFK approach path that all I could hear was crickets, and the occasional fishing boat, as I followed one of the paths through the woods and out to the water’s edge again.  I think I ran into maybe two people while I was on the paths – a younger guy, camera in hand, striding purposefully back to the park away from the water, and a woman walking her dog.  More people seemed interested in just sitting out on the hill surveying the water; it was a good place to just loll, I’ll admit.

Instead of lolling, I head back to the train, stopping for a candy bar at the one deli I saw open, a scruffy place manned by two younger guys.  One wordlessly took my money for the candy bar and then went back to the movie he was watching on his iPad by the register; the other guy manned the sandwich counter, but the entire time I was there he was huddled over his iPhone playing Candy Crush.

One other place seemed open, and I’m actually tempted to go in another time – an Italian restaurant that seemed like the “fancy dress” place in Tottenville.  It was right by the train station, and I actually accidentally stumbled into their lawn when I first got out of the train; two kids dressed in valet uniforms sat at the driveway’s edge, looking bored, and I wandered around, confused, looking at their series of oddball lawn sculptures, a bocce court and a prop swing, with a big sign on it labelled “Just for pictures”.  A gazebo festooned with ribbons overlooked the bay, and a drift of rose petals still lay on the ground around it.  A big tent lay behind the house, already set up for some kind of big party, and a cluster of older men in three piece suits hovered around one couple dining on a side porch, every so often giving me odd looks.  When I went to turn back up to the main road I nearly tripped over a live chicken, one of two that were inexplicably wandering loose on the grounds.  The place seemed a bit more lively when I got back to the train station again; a few more couples strolled in the lawn, a cluster of people were by the bocce courts, and the valets seemed to finally have something to do.  The chickens, however, were nowhere to be seen.


Shocking Twist –

There was an all-hands announcement of free pizza in the company cafeteria today.  I went to get a piece, and when I came back to my desk, I saw my co-worker – who’d missed the announcement – at work at her desk, headphones on so she could concentrate.  She’d grumbled about the chili she brought to lunch not being good, so I tapped her on the shoulder to tell her about the pizza, and when I did, she jumped like I’d shot her.  I apologized, puzzled, and told her about the pizza, and she shakily got up and went to go get some.

It wasn’t until she got back that she explained why she’d been so startled; at the exact moment I’d tapped her shoulder, she’d been listening to an ad for M. Night Shamalayan’s latest movie.

Conversation between Kim and Co-worker N, September 15, about 12:30 pm

Kim: (chuckling to self)

N: What’s so funny?

Kim: I just sent an email to someone telling them they “rocked the casbah.”

N: ….I don’t get it.

Kim: (stares) Okay, read this. (emails Wikipedia link)

N: Oh, okay.  (reads) Oh, it came out in 1982?

Kim: Yeah.  I was in seventh grade.

N: That was about four years before I was born.

Kim: (stares again, gets up to get tea) Just….don’t talk to me for a few minutes.

Cooking My Feelings

I was supposed to be camping right now.  There’s a campground right here in Brooklyn, even, down at Floyd Bennett Field – an old abandoned airfield that’s been taken over by the parks department for a catch-all of outdoor recreation.  The gentleman-companion of the moment is an avid outdoorsman and wanted to come too.

But then sometime Friday night, the news forecasted rain, and lots of it – 70% chance on Saturday, right when we were to be setting up our tent, and 80% chance today.  I sent the guy a quick and cheerful message that “it may rain, but I’m not put off by that, don’t worry!” Only to find out from him that, actually, I should be worried – “you really don’t want to camp in the rain, trust me.”  And after some debate, he insisted we cancel.  And so I did.

And all that happened was a couple thundershowers yesterday evening and some clouds today.  And the dude even started feeling under the weather and backed out of the dinner out we’d planned instead.

Well, phooey.

Fortunately, though, it’s also one of the first comfortable days we’ve had in a while, and I was planning on a big cooking-and-food-prep day anyway when we got back from the campground; this just gave me a chance to do even more.  And the extra time coming from him cancelling let me prowl my cookbooks and add even more things to my list, and so today is ultimately going to be quite busy, and also delicious.  I will be:

  • Blanching and freezing the kernels from about 6 ears of corn
  • Turning a couple pounds of tomatoes into sauce
  • Making peach preserves from a pound of fruit going towards being overripe
  • Making a plum cake with some more fruit I got last week
  • Making batch of winemaker’s cake and a batch of sorbet with some Concord grapes I got yesterday
  • Digging a package of puff pastry dough out of the freezer and some half-eaten jars of jam from the fridge and turning them both into turnovers that will live in the freezer until I’m ready for them
  • Making a batch of the Moosewood recipe for cheese pasties like I’ve done every fall since about 1997 (except I use parsnip instead of turnip because turnip gives me indigestion and so what anyway)
  • Making a big breakfast of eggs and bacon and a couple slices of fried tomato and home fries
  • Making a lunch casserole of rice and corn-and-cheese stuffed poblanos
  • Making a batch of peanut butter and chocolate chip scones for tea
  • Making some chocolate-candy things to keep as an around-the-house nibble

And at some point I need to get my bike out of the shop, and most likely will need to make an emergency butter run at some point.

….And yet I do still kinda wish I went camping.

Conversation between Kim and her roommate Paul, September 12, 12:30 pm

(Kim comes out to the living room and hides her iPad under a couch cushion.)

Kim: If I’m wandering around later looking for this, remind me where I put it.

Paul: Oh….Kay?  Why are you putting it there?

Kim: I’m hiding it on myself.

Paul: …..why?

Kim: someone said something about politics on Facebook.

(Paul nods and piles a throw blanket on top, hiding it even more)

Rerun: September’s Process

(This is a rerun of something I wrote a year ago at about this time.  I wanted to end today on a bit more of a hopeful note.)

Ask the farmer to transfer the tomatoes from their box to a bunch of bags. Wince as he packs the bags too full; they’ll crush easier. Carefully tuck them into the cart, and start home, wincing again as you hit each tiny rut and bump in the sidewalk.   Grab a bag of ice as you pass the deli on your street.  Wince again, and add a groan, when you get home and realize that what with the cart, the bags of tomatoes, and the ice, you’re going to have to make more than one trip up and down the four flights of stairs to your place.  Sigh and get to it.

My local farmers’ market has a “canners’ special” each year – a bushel of tomatoes, sold cheap to those wanting to put things up. I’ve been picking up a box every year for about five years now – it seems to be just enough to last yearlong, with about a dozen cans of tomatoes and a couple jars of fresh tomato juice eacn time, and the process is messy and annoying enough that I only do want to do it once.

Three years ago I got into the habit of scheduling this ordeal for the anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks.

Clean out the sink first.  You’ll need an empty sink for the dishes after, and you’ll also need it for the ice water bath when you’re peeling the tomatoes.

Weigh out your tomatoes, laying them into little clusters on the dining room table – six pounds each. Save aside the ones that crushed on the way, to make tomato sauce and salsa to keep in the fridge right away.  Throw out the couple of fungus-y tomatoes that managed to sneak into the bushel.  Fetch enough empty jars from that top shelf in the kitchen, and dig through the pile of canning supplies trying to find enough lids.  Steal a couple from the teeny jars you have in the closet.

Dig out the big stock pot you got from your cousins 20 Christmases ago. Tuck in the first of your canning jars, and fill the whole thing, jars and all, with water.  Set that to boil while you dig out the other two big soup pots – fill one with water, and start that boiling while you fill up the sink and dump in part of the bag of ice.

Different cabinet now – dig out the big mixing bowl and balance a colander on top.  Shuffle the bowl and pans around on your counter while you’re waiting for all the water to boil.   It’s already getting hot.  Look at how many dishes this is already using.  Sigh.

Canning is just complicated and frustrating enough to lure me from the thoughts I’d otherwise have this day; it’s busywork, keeping me at a low level of distraction and giving me something else to be cranky at.  It also gives me an excuse to shut myself away from people.  But it’s not so intricate that I can’t recover if I do, despite myself, slip into memory.

I was in New York City that day; I was on “standby” with my temp agency, dressed and waiting just in case they got a last-minute call so they could send me right out.   So I was at home that morning, and I lived close enough to the Towers that I heard the impact of both planes as they hit.

The reason I was on standby, though, was because the day before I’d missed a call from my agency asking if I was available for something starting on the 11th.  By the time I called them back, they’d already given it to someone else.  It wasn’t until the evening of the 11th that I remembered that my agency had a lot of clients in the Twin Towers – so it was very possible that if I’d taken that job, I’d have been one of the people in the Towers that day.

Drop the first few tomatoes into the smaller pot of boiling water.  Realize you forgot to set a timer, curse and do so.  Wait.  Start madly scooping tomatoes into the sink ice bath when 30 seconds is (sort of) up.  Wait thirty more seconds – more or less – and grab a tomato from the sink, juggling it in your hands a little.  Still hot.  But the skin is fortunately slipping off.  Peel it over the colander and dig out the tough core with your fingers, dropping skin and seeds and tomato goodge into it as you do. Crush the meat in your hands and dump it into the second pot.

Notice, as you reach for a second tomato, that you’ve squirted juice onto the side of the fridge.  Swear.  Try to dig the peel off the second tomato.  This one’s more stubborn.  Swear again.  And then again when you squirt tomato down your shirt front.

Look at the remaining tomatoes in the sink, and then over at the 14 pounds you haven’t even gotten to yet.  Swear again.

Sometimes my not having been in the Towers feels like a copout.  We hear a lot from the First Responders and their families; the next of kin of the victims; the military.  We don’t hear as much about the experiences of the ordinary schlubs like me – people whose experience with 9/11 was only in coping with the city’s aftermath.  I didn’t know anyone in the Towers, I wasn’t there myself, no one I know died.  What’s my problem?

But even if no person I know died, the place was badly wounded.  For three months I tried to ignore the smell of smoke hanging over everything – the fire at Ground Zero was still going, and that meant that something was still fueling that fire, and I didn’t want to think too hard about just what that fuel may be.  I also tried to ignore the “Missing Person” posters that blanketed every single wall and bulletin board and lamppost with their futility.  And the shrines in front of each police precinct and firehouse, a small pile of dead flowers and burnt-out bodega candles clustered against the side of the building near a taped-up few pictures of smiling cops or firemen.  You saw these things ever once in a while before, of course, when one guy or another was killed in action.  But this time it was every precinct that had one, every fire house that had one.

The president and the mayor were trying to tell us all to go about our business and get back to normal.  But there were some long and lingering signs pointing to the fact that things were not normal.  Not at all.

The pot full of jars is boiling, so start simmering the crushed tomato on the stove and start fishing jars out of the pot, carefully dumping the water back in.  Dole a spoonful of citric acid and a spoon of salt into each jar.  Get the idea to tuck sprigs of oregano into a couple jars and clip some off your oregano plant in the window.

Ladle the tomato carefully into each jar.  Swear again when you overfill one and have to scoop some out.  Wipe all the jar rims.  Start to wipe the counter while you’re at it but then realize you’re just getting started so why bother.  Screw the lids on each jar, holding each one gingerly from the heat.  Grab each jar with the funky tong thingies you got just for canning jars, praying you don’t drop anything as you carefully lower them back into the still-boiling stock pot.

Set the timer for a half hour when the stock pot’s full.  Consider sitting down for a bit, but sigh and start peeling the next pile of tomatoes.

Even in the weeks immediately after the attacks, I found myself more angry at other Americans than I was at the attackers.  My friend Colin and I had a discussion shortly after, about “what would you do if Osama Bin Laden was in this room right now?”  And honestly, the most I would have done is smacked him like Cher did to Nic Cage in Moonstruck and asked, “what the hell was that?”  Even today, I can’t entirely escape the thought that Bin Laden and the attackers were not sane.  I would no more blame them for acting while under the influence of extreme religious fundamentalism than I would blame a rabid dog – neither knew any better.

However, our country did know better when we started a war under false pretenses with the wrong damn country, one which we are still fighting today.

Even worse are the politicians who preach platitudes about supporting the brave first responders who risked their lives during the attacks – but then turn around and cancel bills meant to give those first responders support for their health care.  Or the regular people online who blanket Facebook and Twitter and such every September 11th with Photoshopped pictures of the Twin Towers and eagles and flags and the “Never Forget” slogan in sparklefont – but then go back to slagging New Yorkers as “libtards” the very next day.  Both those camps are people who are exploiting the worst day of my life to make themselves look good to others, and I have very little patience for that.

The person I got the angriest at, though, was a man who came up to me on the street two days after the attacks.  I was standing near my neighborhood’s local mosque, and he was walking past and saw me there, came over to me, and nodding at the mosque, said, “so this is where the snake pit is, huh?”

Never before in my life have I been as angry as another person as I got at that man.  “This is a HOUSE of WORSHIP!” I roared at him.  “HOW DARE YOU!”

“It’s a SNAKE PIT!” he shouted back; but he was backing away from me.  We shouted back and forth at each other a few seconds more, him calling the mosque a snake pit and me scolding him for his prejudice; but he was backing away down the street and finally just ran off, driven off by my rage.

And it was pure rage. Rage which still comes faintly back to me when I write about that moment thirteen years later.

Carefully lift the processed jars out of the stock pot.  Worry at one that hisses a bit.  Check the lid; it’s a good seal.  Resolve to keep an eye on it anyway.  Top up the water and drop in the next round of jars.

Carry the jars over to the window by your oregano.  Linger there a few seconds each time you do, to catch the breeze for just a minute before returning to the hot kitchen.  Fiddle again with that jar you heard hissing.  Hear one of the jars clink in the stock pot and run back to make sure it didn’t break.

Food was one thing that helped me cope during those first few weeks.  Cat food, mostly.

I got into a bad headspace after a week; I didn’t have work right away, and so I was stuck with nothing to do, which left way too much time for me to let myself get caught up in endless mental rabbit-track loops replaying what had happened.  I’d either sit in my apartment in a weird fugue state, or do things like lock myself in my room and stay awake for 48 hours reading Lord Of The Rings cover to cover.

But while I was in a bad mental place, my cat Zach was not.  War or peace, political strife or good days – it was all the same to him.  All he cared about was food – Zach was an enormous glutton.  And two hours before his dinner, he would start asking after it, with his loud and strangely nasal “Miaou!”s.  In the weeks after the attack, his “Miaou!” was the only thing loud enough to finally pierce the voices in my own head, and rouse me to get up and off the couch and give him a scoop of kibble – and oh, wait, while I’m up I maybe should get a sandwich or something, shouldn’t I?….

And so while Zach ate and I numbly nibbled, I thought about how Zach didn’t care what had happened; all he cared about was that he was alive and he wanted to stay that way – and that I was alive, and it was my job to feed him.  I had a responsibility to keep him fed – and while I was at it, I had to keep me fed too.

I was alive, and I had to keep living for the people who couldn’t.

Chop the tomatoes that crushed on the way home.  Dump them into a Tupperware container with the not-enough-to-fill-a-jar tomato meat and stick it in the fridge to deal with later.   Mix up the skins and seeds in the colander with your hand to finish straining the juice.  Empty the colander into the trash.  Drop the colander in the trash as you do. Swear again.

Get that really big measuring cup and measure the juice from the bowl.  Just over two pints; dump the water out of the tomato bath pot and dump in the juice.  Bring that to a boil while you get two more jars.  This time it’s easier to fill the jars – it’s all juice.  Much more pourable.  Save the extra aside.  Seal those up too and set the juice jars inside the stock pot.   These get fifteen minutes; take a very deep breath, summon your courage and grab a paper towel to start finally wiping down the countertops and get going on the dishes. Pause halfway through to get a rocks glass from your “bar” in the living room.

Food was a place to start living again.

I’ve always been an active cook, but I picked it up after the attacks.  Especially the canning – it started as a whim, making jam and then liqueur, and then when I moved to Brooklyn I tried canning a couple pounds of tomatoes just to see if I could.

I now routinely make jam and applesauce and pickles every year, mainly just to cope with the bounty I get from a CSA; when I know I can’t eat something fast enough, it either gets canned or frozen.  I hate to waste things, so this kind of canning is more salvage; I’m stopping it from going bad so I can have it on hand to use in something.  Someday.  At some point.

Tomatoes are a little different – it’s the only thing I can as a planning-ahead thing.  I cook a lot of Cajun and Italian food, and tomato soup is one of my comfort foods, so tomatoes are a staple, and this is my big annual stocking-up.  I boasted to my mother once that I haven’t had to buy a can of Del Monte or Contadina from the supermarket in four years.

There’s also something comforting about that big stockpile; about opening the hall closet where I keep all my canned stuff, and seeing those jars stacked up.  It’s a bounty – the means to make a years’ worth of some of my favorite foods whenever I choose, and knowing that because these are really good tomatoes, it’s also going to be really good food.

But it’s also a promise and a commitment and a celebration.  It’s my own declaration that I’m still here, thirteen years on, to eat those tomatoes.  And share them with others who are also here.  Canning on September 11th each year is my way of celebrating that I’m here, and signing on to stay here.

Bring the juice jars over to the windowsill, and finally turn off the stove.  Leave the last pot to soak, measure out a bit of vodka and dump that into the glass with the balance of the juice.  Forgive yourself for having to look up how to make a Bloody Mary.  Finish mixing it and bring it to the chair by the window with a heavy sigh.

Look at the jars of tomatoes.  Twelve of them this year, a neat row of jars with swirls of orangey-red. Twelve meals’ worth of future soups and chilis and jambalaya.

Think about jambalaya a moment, the play of the smoky Andouille and sweet pepper on your tongue.

Take a sip of your drink.  You overdid it with the vodka a tiny bit, but the blinding freshness of the tomato comes through.

Feel the breeze through the window, a relief after the hot kitchen.  Look out the window.  You’re looking east, so you can’t see the sun, but the sky is colored for sunset anyway, the blue tinging to pink and lavender.  Sip your drink again and look at the sky.

Then back inside to your home, one which you’ve filled with friends whom you’ve fed with tomatoes in years past.  Remember one meal, all of you sitting around the kitchen table and laughing.

Look back out at the sky again, thinking of them.  Thinking of life.

You are alive.


The Stream of Lethe

Fortunately it didn’t start until late on the 10th this year.  But I checked Facebook one last time before bed last night, and sure enough, I already started seeing a couple of friends change their Facebook avatars to black squares, or yellow ribbons.  One person posted a picture of the Towers of Light, and my uncle re-shared one of this year’s “remember the first responders” memes.  This morning I woke up to the news that “#neverforget” is trending on Twitter, and a few more Facebook mentions have already popped up.

The thing is, I would like nothing more than to have the world grant me the space to treat the eleventh day of September as a normal day.

I occupy a weird and unremarked space among the 9/11 survivors – I wasn’t at the Towers, I didn’t know anyone who died there.  But I also didn’t just watch things on TV the way the rest of the world did.  I did hear the impact of both planes hit, though, and I smelled smoke for a solid three months and saw the walls and lampposts around me blanketed with missing-person flyers and saw the mounds of tributes turning all the fire stations into shrines.  I went through checkpoints at the end of my block whenever I left the house for the first week when the “Frozen Zone” covered everything below 14th Street.  I bonded with about a hundred total strangers at a vigil in Union Square when someone started singing “Give Peace A Chance” and we all joined in, and I got into a screaming match with a guy when I was standing in front of a mosque and he was passing by, and nudged me and said, “is this where the snake pit is?”

And I would very, very much like to forget all of that.  Those were some dark weeks, and I had about three breakdowns from the sheer stress of what in the name of hell is even going on any more.  Somewhere in a corner of my brain that darkness is still locked down – someone showed me pictures from inside the 9/11 Memorial Museum, and a recreation of one of the missing-persons-flyer walls sent me into a weird shaky mood for the rest of the day.  What I really need is the space and time to let that day grow distant.

But every year the rest of the world – most of whom had the luxury of distance fourteen years ago – comes along again to remember, and encourages everyone else to remember as well, and I’m in a low tense mood until the end of the day, when it all dies down again on the twelfth and people go back to what they were doing.  I’m not talking about the city’s memorial service, mind; or Washington DC’s, or the field where United 93 crashed.  For the people who lost loved ones, remembering them this day brings them comfort and I am all for that.  But the bulk of people saying “never forget” on social media today never lost anyone, never were near New York City that day, never knew anyone there, and some never visited New York City in their lives and moreover never want to.  A lot of people are just using the day to show off their patriotism, thinking that in some way they’re trying to “support” me – without having asked me how I want to be supported.

And so I am reminded every year to “never forget” despite the fact that trying to forget some of the things I went through in 2001 is the only way I’ve been able to stay sane for the past fourteen years.