I feel like I need a fucking cigarette. I finally posted all of it. It’s all out there. The original, the edit, the epilogues, a couple posts intermingled with thoughts about it all. There will be more I’m positive, as I progress through what’s been left strewn about my mind from the process.
One thing I find funny is that I keep thinking about new details. I just added a couple paragraphs to the Epilogue-1 post.
But it’s shipped. As a high neurotic I’ve been hesitating on putting this all out there for damn near 20 fucking years (call it 18.)
I figure I’ll keep remembering things and adding to it a bit for the next couple months, eventually easing towards stability. Then, who knows. Maybe I’ll never look at it again. Maybe I’ll always twiddle it here and there. Don’t know. Don’t much care. It’s out.
It makes me want to reread Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” which, if you’ve ever thought about creating anything (and why the fuck not if not?) is a truly great book.
In his parlance I’ve won the war with Resistance and Shipped It.
It’s on to the next thing.
Last night one of my favorite people showed up at Johnathan’s and we started ripping the world apart as the night drew on. Hell I’ve only been in a room with him 4 times and the first was very casual. But he’s one of those people you meet and instantly click with. He’s a deep thinker with something to say, however recalcitrant he is to get started.
And as always, when we got to talking, I learned a bunch both from him and from me hearing myself say things I didn’t know I knew. That’s a particularly counter intuitive phenomenon that I’m getting more and more at home with over time.
The trick now, as I see it, is finding occasions and people to work things out with like that. Yes it works very well even when I’m pacing around my home, talking to myself. But when I have someone else there who I can speak with on my level (fuck you, that’s pretty high) it takes on an amazing new level of personal enlightenment.
So finding the coterie is now the task. There’s him and a couple other people who I can add to the list. Not most of my friends, to be sure, love them as I do.
I come back again to the idea of a real Salon, a forum for chosen people to sit together and tear apart the world with each other. Not quite a Napoleon Hill “Mastermind Group” but something pretty close.
It’s not the kind of thing you can find from meetup.com. You have to dredge through acres and acres of normies and would-be intellectuals. They can rarely identify themselves, though sometimes I’ll sit there (at the bar) and someone will say “I wish I could just have a REAL conversation” which will mark them as a candidate.
IF, at that moment, I’m sitting there with another A-list human, we’ll look at each other knowingly (or not even, knowing we both heard it) and probe a bit, seeing if someone has the capability to be wrong without getting their ego in the way, someone who has the capacity and desire to dive into the unknown.
Everybody thinks they’re smart, and hell maybe a lot of people are, just failing to get out of their own way enough to actually fucking listen to…themselves or to others enough to be declared as interesting.
But I’ve written who knows how many thousands of words today and I’m done for now. These sessions are starting to blow by very quickly. Productivity is through the damned roof. But my fingers are in so many documents that I can’t even discern by how much.
Maybe this is what Thomas Bevan is talking about when he says to ignore the word count and focus instead on how long you’ve sat at work.
Enough for now though. It’s 4:45 and I’ve got a bar to go to for a few hours.
I’ve wrestled with the idea of doing this for years. But the fundamental truth of my 9/11 account is that it was a first pass “quick, get it all on paper before it leaves your head. Come back to it later and edit it.” Years later I can’t look at the thing without wincing. So I decided to start undertaking the project of fleshing it out, seeing what was invoked by a good re-read.
As someone who’s narcissistic enough to enjoy chronicling my own life, I know now that I’m going to be adding to this. Probably as a yearly ritual for a while. There’s so much missing. But at least now, the things that I DO cover, I’m at least marginally satisfied with.
It’s almost impossible to describe that sound. When you think of a crash, you think of a cacophony of shattering and twisting noises, the high pitched squeal of twisting metal. A noise that hearts your ears with it’s pitch. But when you’re in side one of the objects in the crash, the experience is much different, almost inverted in a way. There was a resounding crunch almost too deep to be heard. It reminded me very much of the sound of a car crash from within one of the cars. A much more rounded sound, a crumbling sound.
It was a deep feeling as well. I’ve never experienced anything close, much less equivalent. Most of that was likely due to the fact that I was on the 51st floor of the building. It was a few seconds before the “oh my god’s” started coming from all over the office.
At the time I thought it was a strangely strong lightning strike. As such I was excited, having a great fondness for a good electrical storm.
I looked up from my desk in time to see what appeared to be debris of some sort falling past the window. It was a sunny morning and the debris sparkled as it fell, like some Disney pixie dust. It was among the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. It just didn’t look like it could possibly be real, much less shards and dust of glass.
My next thought was that a helicopter must have hit the building a few floors up. That would at least account for the shake and the debris.
It was about then that a few people started running. Shouts of “everybody out” accompanied the stampede of employees. I noted in passing that our fire marshal bolted and was among the first out the door, running so fast he left a smoke trail. Well, so much for making sure everybody’s out.
I could smell the energy level rise, until the whole office seemed to buzz around me. Some people were venturing over to my side of the floor (I sat in view of the North side) to look out the window at the falling debris, still not sure anything serious was wrong. There’s something that happens when you get into a fight and they’ve actually made a good enough movie effect of it that I can relate it here. Adrenaline rockets up and everything around you slows down, the sound dies down a bit as you come into a hyper clear focus but you feel almost calm relative to the situation.
I stood up and looked around. I had started to walk out, but hadn’t gotten all the way out of my “cube” before I thought to pack my backpack. it seemed unlikely that we were really going to evacuate, and if we did, we’d get about halfway down before they told us everything was secure, and to return to work. But in the event that we didn’t get back in the building that day, I wanted my bag with me. So for about 2 or 3 minutes while everyone ran around like ants on fire I packed my notebook, the “peerless” cartridge (a 20g usb drive) and a couple books.
I started walking towards the back door and ran into Henry (among the few people who had their wits about them) on the way out, confirming that everybody else had already gotten out safely. He said in passing that the computer room was smoking. I paused and sniffed the air and, sure enough, caught a whiff of that telltale acrid smell that anyone who’s ever handled a soldering iron is familiar with.
I watched Dana’s telltale red hair fly by as she made for the exit.
So I had my bag and my jacket on, and I made my way to the stairs. People were milling about in strange indecision, arguing about fire drill protocol, waiting for the red phone to ring. There was some light smoke in the hall. Someone raised the question of whether to take the elevators or stairs. We opted for the stairs.
I paused for a moment realizing I had to go to the bathroom, but for some reason thought better of it. In retrospect, a notion that evokes no small amount of laughter.
The stairwell was pleasant insofar as such things can be. People were pretty shaken. Clearly everyone’s neurons had all fired at the same moment and there was a bit of edginess about the whole affair in the beginning. But there was more nervous laughter than anything.
One of the reasons I live in New York City is for the people. This is a statement that evokes all manner of oxymoron jokes from the ministries of jokes and humor throughout the world which is only because they don’t know any better. I don’t mean that New Yorkers are such warm, welcoming, hospitable people in a day to day sense. But New Yorkers really just have a remarkably low tolerance for bullshit and when there’s a panic situation, the amount of panic is pretty much limited to the bridge and tunnel people. No offense, but when there’s an emergency in New York, stay the hell in Bayonne or Scarsdale.
We were descending at a decent pace, when a man to the left of me lost his footing. One of a pair of early 40s rotund latin women screamed at the top of her lungs, discharging some of their pent up stress. An assault on the senses I found it hard to forgive at the moment. Aside from that things were pretty quiet. The gentleman, who was clearly caught in an emotional state with which I am not particularly familiar by the look on his face and the strange paralysis that seemed to overtaken him, was caught before he hit the deck by several people, strangely unable to move his own legs enough to stand up again for an eternity of seconds. Such was the spirit of the descent.
The conversation was harsh with a strange feigned casualness. We talked about cell phone reception being dead in the collar of the stairwell, the likelihood of the building falling (waved off wholesale as ridiculous.) The 1993 bombing veterans were remarking about how much things had improved in eight years; sand paint, emergency lighting, reflective surfaces, etc. I can’t even imagine the carnage if those measures hadn’t been taken.
As we descended fashion fell prey to pragmatism as women’s shoes began to litter the stairs. The farther down we walked, the more there were. The resulting spectacle on the lower floors was really like something out of the twilight zone; random odd shoes all over the place. It was as much of a non sequitur to see as it is to read here.
It was about then that I first had the thought. “What if the fire is in the stairwell 20 floors down and there’s no way out?” It was a kind of understanding that caused me to become more calm. No, calm isn’t the right work. I was anything but calm. It just wasn’t being expressed by sweating and having that strange “I’m about to burst into panicked tears” facial expression that seemed to rule the day. I wasn’t spending alot of energy trying to reassure people so as to reassure myself. I was just being an observer, more and more detached form the reality of what was taking place as I descended each step. I could feel myself getting farther away with each new detail. It was as though the heat of my own fear drove me out of my body.
It was a good 10 or 15 floors before we started hearing “Get to the right!” from several floors above or below us. In the beginning this evoked a modest effort to scrunch along the walls as extremely distressed people came down with a clear-headed escort, or firemen went up, overloaded with gear (including 1 or 2 compressed air tanks, 6? polearms, a vast length of hose and sometimes drinking water, to say nothing of their suits) would come up, sweat poured off them like a bad special effect.
People were quiet, just watching the express lane when it was called for. There was a strange solemnity in watching them. I’d be lying if I said “foreboding” because that would imply we had any idea what was going to happen. The only thing we knew was that we were part of “the masses” and that perhaps this wasn’t a particularly ordinary circumstance.
By the 34th floor my bladder was beginning to govern my mind (having descended from 51 in an amount of time I have no ability to calculate or rederive) I needed a solution. So I opened the door and walked out into the hall. The smoke was fairly thick, which I didn’t understand. I thought I had seen forms moving behind one of the glass doors, so I went inside the office and talked to a couple people.
There were a half-dozen people who were just standing around waiting for the staircase to clear before beginning their descent (a phenomenon I noticed at many more ‘poke my head in’ moments on the way down.) Among them were a couple veterans of the ‘93 bombing who “weren’t going to die by being trampled to death.”
A kid (about 25) dressed in 1985 conservative garb was on the phone trying to figure out and report (rather clinically) what had happened. A request for directions to the bathroom resulted in my worst fears realized. They were locked on all floors, and nobody around had the key (these were apparently all squatters from higher up.) So I went back to the stairs.
Strangely, when I got there, nobody had moved. Henry said “Yo, you missed it. Some wounded came down.” This didn’t have the air of rubbernecking excitement that putting it on paper might imply. It was a simple fact. Someone standing next to me leaned in and near-whispered “yeah, it was pretty bad, a bunch of people had to turn away.” I could only imagine what that meant. It occurred to me that those could only have been the wounded that were still able to walk down the stairs.
From then on, when someone shouted “Get to the right” we hustled and found room for people to pass.
It was about the early 30s where the smell of smoke began to get dense. People were looking down the stairwell trying to figure out how bad it was going to get, and would we have to get off and wait in one of the offices until things had cleared. No, it was better to just go down through it. After all, the firemen were coming up, which is eventually what reassured us. They told us to keep going, that the air would only get worse for a couple more floors then start to clean up.
We caught some word from firemen that a plane had hit the building. I could imagine that being an accident, but it didn’t seem too likely. It wasn’t long after we started getting news that we got the telling piece of information. It wasn’t one plane, it was two. One hitting each tower. For some reason I don’t quite understand, most people didn’t seem to do the math and repeatedly declared how strange a coincidence that was.
I have to imagine that I felt and heard the second strike, but I just don’t remember, or can’t place the time closely enough to explore my surrounding memories for some telltale sign. Maybe the buildings were just that well insulated.
Perhaps it’s the cynic’s lot to accept such truths more readily than normal people. The couple people who seemed on the ball enough to handle the news (and close enough to me that I wouldn’t have to shout it) and I spoke a bit about how it could only have been a terrorist attack. They would shake off my hypothesis (or rather, the effect of hearing it) with a resigned “yeah, you’re right.”
But still, through all of this weirdness, no panicking. Only the rivers of sweating faces of the overloaded firemen and people in other more official uniforms I didn’t quite recognize coming up. The civil, if terrified, people going down.
Now, down below the 30th floor, the firemen were in the individual floors with their pokes, prying apart vending machines to get at something to drink. There were also firemen who’d started dropping their water bottles on the way up the stairs because they were just too damn heavy. Promptly someone would pick them up and offer drinks to the ones coming up behind them until the bottle was empty or accepted in it’s entirety.
My heart began to sink and I became heavy with guilt as the “rescue workers” (as is now apparently the polite euphemism) went up the stairs to do whatever they possibly could. Not knowing what that even might be. A part of me, a big part of me, wishes I could remember more if not all of those faces. I didn’t know it at the time; that they were climbing to their deaths. It was a couple days before I had another thought about that… That they may have known full well.
See, I’ve waited too long to pen this account. But it is only now I can keep my head clear and eyes dry enough to get a significant amount of words out on paper.
In the mid-20s, the flow of firemen became fairly consistent. People stayed to the outside edge of the stairwell by default now as best they could. Descent was extremely slow, taking a couple minutes at each floor. It was here I believe a number of people switched to other, reportedly less crowded stairwells. I didn’t find the going quite that slow, and frankly I wasn’t that bothered.
On 22 was where they were all congregating. They were stopping on the way up for a breather, and going up in shifts of 8 or 10. All of them had radios and they were referring to each other by what company they came from. It did me some good to see them resting. They were human after all, and after what I’d seen already, I had been beginning to wonder.
Things began to speed up dramatically down in the low teens. People’s spirits were lifting as the line was getting faster and the air clearer. More frequently though, the floor in the stairwells would be wet. After all, it was almost over. But the lower we got, the more water came out from under the doors to each successive floor resulting in quite a deluge. A couple teeny asian girls had trouble standing and were carried some bit of the way down. A strange site.
By the time we got down to the 6th floor, the water was coming off the floors themselves, pouring out from under the doors and down the steps. This was causing a fair bit of excitement. People began to try and make time getting down as quick as they could, sacrificing basic safety rather readily. By the 3rd floor it was difficult to walk. But you could hear the police at the bottom telling people to move on. The fact that the trudge downstairs was ending and the tenor of the cops added a bit of a panicked edge to the mood.
It wasn’t until I got out the door at the bottom of the stairwell, nearly pushed by the police, while they were looking at nobody in particular, yelling to keep moving, run, get away from the building. But the stairwell exits into the bottom of the building which is at least 2 floors underground.
I walked out the door into the lobby and saw some destruction for the first time.
The marble facades on the walls (the 3 or 4 story high walls) had come down in several places, leaving debris scattered everywhere. The turnstiles were battered to bits, presumably by the firemen who had larger things to get upstairs than just themselves. The floor was covered in 3 foot high piles of marble and plaster. They had dug a trail from the doorway out through to the mall entrance.
Everything I remember from those few minutes is white and gray. The color of concrete. How I wish I’d taken a few more seconds to soak in that scene. But the police were doing their jobs well, keeping us moving.
As we single-filed out of the stairwell, people were bewildered. There was destruction, the first signs of it with plaster and marble covering the floor in 3 foot deep piles that had been quickly shuttled around to clear some relatively safe pathways out to the mall. They stopped, looking to the police and FBI for some kind of information. But there was only one thing they would get:
“Keep moving. Do not stop to talk on your cell phone. Walk this way out to the mall. Move as fast as you can. Get away from the building.”
“But what’s goin’…”
“Keep moving. Less talking more walking. Let’s go. Let’s go.” They wouldn’t make eye contact. They wouldn’t address you or answer a question. Just the same speech.
There seemed to be hundreds of cops and FBI agents around, all saying the same thing; herding us into the mall, down a specific path. Positively herding us. It made my blood boil at the time. I just wanted more information, to understand what the hell was going on.
“Run as fast as you can, get away from the building.” They were programmed to not interact with us in any way, not to say anything that would cause us to stop and try and talk, just to get us out the door.
The sprinkler systems in the mall were going full blast and the floor is a glossy tile. The LAST thing a thinking person would do is run across that floor while it’s covered in an inch of water. In retrospect, yeah, I probably could have trotted a bit.
We were herded around a couple corners to an escalator exit that came up in front of Borders. By the time we got there the sprinklers had been shut off. Not that it mattered much, my hair, clothes and backpack were soaked to the bone.
We got up the stairs and it was more of the same…
“Keep moving. Run! Run away from the building as far as you can get.”
“How many blocks?”
“Just keep going.”
“But how far?”
“As far as you can get.”
“Any direction, just go!”
This was representative of the conversations I heard between people just trying to understand their plight and those who were expected to know more than us. In retrospect, it was genius. Call attention to nothing, don’t engage anyone, just keep them moving. It’s the only thing that could have worked to get people out of there.
So we walked. Some trotted, but not too many. We were out of the building, what could possibly have been the need? More debris maybe. But they were being a bit melodramatic about that if that was the reason. It occurred to me finally that I wasn’t even half way up to start with. If they were evacuating the whole building then just to have the crowd there would be dangerous, so of course they would want us “as far away as possible.” It kept the density of people thin.
Satisfied with my own explanation I walked off in the direction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Worse comes to worse, I’ll just walk home that way and figure out what’s going on later.
I remember my route fairly precisely. I could rewalk it in a heartbeat if it were there anymore. Unfortunately I don’t think I ever knew the street names so it would be of no use to anybody. I walked diagonally across the street in front of Borders off to the left and passed in front of Staples, still amazed at the police presence. It wasn’t until I was in front of J&R Computer World that I turned around and saw what had become of WTC-2.
I could see the flames. From what amounted to 6 blocks away from the building and 60 floors down I could see the flames. The closest thing to a clear thought I had was the strange realization that hollywood would be getting burning building special effects down much better with the footage they’d no doubt scrounge from this. Other than that my mind was as empty of thought as it has ever been. I had absolutely no reaction. For seconds I watched it burn, thoughts slowly returning as I remembered those guys from the 34th floor “I’m not going to die by getting trampled to death.” Was the most coherent thing I remembered. No sir. I’m deeply sorry to say, you weren’t.
I returned to my exodus with hundreds of people on the street. Slowly people began to realize what was going on as they turned around for the first time and looked at what I had just seen, and screamed. People stopped to take pictures. Occasionally I had the presence of mind to scream at them “Are you fucking stupid !?!”
I heard the source of a noise in my stomach and bones. It was a sound of cosmic import. I turned around a bit quizzical. I watched as each successive floor blew out with flames, then smoke. The sound would have been deafening but it was almost too low to even hear. My feet heard it, my stomach and bones heard it, and my spirit was fractured by it. In a steady meter, obscuring the floors above them in smoke that rose to the top of the building (and above) each floor exploded, pausing only a fragment of a second before the one below erupted, obscuring the next floor up in it’s entirety. I couldn’t help but think of it as the perfect movie effect.
I trotted a bit, sprinted for a little while, but not very long, then went back to a fast walk as the screaming people came on. Frankly I was far more afraid of them than anything else, so my speed was intended to match theirs so I could ‘bodysurf the crowd’ rather than getting trampled by a bunch of panicking morons.
I turned around to see which way I would be most likely to dodge them when I saw the cloud of smoke and ash beginning to snake it’s way between the buildings. It didn’t look like a cloud of ash, but more like an animator had been slowly erasing the background of his entire cartoon world. It took a good 10 seconds to register, then I did some very quick math and started tearing off in more or less the direction of the bridge, having come to a frightening conclusion. That thing was moving really fast. There’s no way I could outrun it.
I noticed as I ran that it was getting quiet behind me. There weren’t any screams. but it wasn’t a “clear” sensation. It was a great thing, a monster that swallowed screams and the people who made them, swallow them whole. And it was going to get me, strangle me, and kill me.
My shoes started looking a little grey as strange particles of ash blew forward between my feet. I turned around to look and there was nothing. Just grey. By the time I turned back around to face forward the rest of the world had disappeared.
Complete and perfect.
I couldn’t hear myself breathe. I couldn’t feel the air entering my lungs. I couldn’t see my own feet. I looked down at my clothes, and could only make out the barest outline of myself, if that was even him. There was no sound, there were no people. There was no Brooklyn Bridge to run to. There was no East River to get to where the cloud would have dispersed. There was no City Hall, no fountain, no J&R. There were no cop cars. There were no camera wielding fools. There were no cops or FBI agents, no matter how well armed. 500 panicking screaming people within 100 yards of me were gone.
Just like me.
There was no lower Manhattan, no new York City, no United States, no North America, no earth, Solar system. No milky way galaxy. No universe. No black, no white. No hope, no light. No love, no life.
Nothing but grey.
Nothing but fear.
Nothing but death.
Alone. Again. Still. After everything in my life. To die,
Fuck you too.
Huge deep panic breaths. Every breath I take is killing me; reducing my lung capacity as I inhaled more of that crap. Put your shirt over your mouth. “But I can’t see.” Just walk.
I had been untethered from everything. All I wanted was something to put my feet onto that could move, something to grab on to that was made of steel.
There was someone else moving out there, in the infinity of 10 feet away. I got to him and put my hand on his back. We walked for a while and got separated. It must have been a hallucination.
I found a wall and followed it with one hand. but I didn’t know where it led so I moved away from it and walked out into the street. But I don’t know which one.
This shirt (over my face) is doing me no good.
I couldn’t see anything. I felt my lungs filling up with this crap. How much would it take to kill me? Before my lung capacity was reduced to the point of suffocation?
I saw the lights of a cop car and approached it. I looked at the driver’s side window, but couldn’t see in. Cops were doing important things. I wasn’t important enough to bother them. Besides, all that ash would just get in their car.
A fence… I didn’t know any fences around there. I must not’ve been there. Which way then?
Another form, moving quickly.
A cop hat.
He sees me.
“Give me your hand. We’re going to run.”
I may have said something about not wanting to
He didn’t wear a mask. But I think he had glasses. Shorter than me by about 5 inches, with a grip I was thankful for.
“You’re going to see a triangle of light in the upper left side of your vision. When you do, keep running to that.” What the hell did that mean?
It wasn’t long. I could see it. We were running under something. The Bridge! It was the overpass to the bridge.
“I see it.”
He ran with me for another second.
“It’s clear there.”
“I’m not going to die. I’m good. I’m ok.” I was reassuring him (or was it me) and letting him know that he could let go and get back to whatever important stuff he had been doing before getting sidetracked by running into me.
He was gone. But I was here, and there was color and people and New York City. Damn I love New York.
I came out on the “wrong” side of the street. Out from under an overpass I didn’t recognize (until going back to retrace my steps.) There was an FBI agent armed with a combat shotgun and a vest. “You’re on the wrong side of the street. You need to be over there.”
“Dude after what I just came out of, I’ll go wherever the hell you tell me as long as it’s not back that way. Damn, he couldn’t even smile. It took a bit to register that the cop car I’d seen earlier could come through there and cream me. Hell of a way to go after all that.
My thought seems to be tightly tied to my ability to see, because as the detail of the world emerged from the cloud, my brain popped the clutch and lit up the tires of my mind.
I vaulted over the guardrail to get on to the right side of the street and started walking. I am I and I had deep purpose. There were things that needed to be done now. Between steps I could summon up as much spit as I could to get the grit, gravel, dust, and ash out of my mouth and throat.
My teeth crunched and I spit continuously for the next 10 minutes.
I walked north. Everybody walked north. It was only a block or two before there weren’t very many people covered in ash the way I was. As I approached Canal street, people started looking at me funny. I stood for a moment on some median near the Manhattan Bridge, I think. It might not have been that far up.
The moment I stood still people started feeling guilty about being overcome by their urge to crowd. there were a couple guys begin worn by “nice” suits (read: expensive as they were boring.) I think one had a yellow tie and a beeper. he started talking about having been down on wall street when they evacuated. He looked like he had just stepped out of the shower, talking to me about a harrowing experience.
“Where were you when the building came down?”
“You know, when it fell.”
“WHAT!?! It didn’t occur to me that I hadn’t turned around. I did. There was only one tower. “IT’S FUCKING GONE?”
It took me a minute to rejoin the conversation. There were only the two of us talking before. He didn’t seem to need my attention. But I snapped back, having replayed from the beginning.
“Look at me, where the hell do you think I was? Just below city hall, in front of J&R. I’d just gotten out of the building.”
“No, the one that’s still there.” Because at the moment, it was.
A couple asian people asked what questions they could with the English they knew. Frankly I don’t remember them. I was happy to stand there and answer people for a while though. Something in me understands the need of people to have a first hand account. After all, you’re reading this, aren’t you.
In my left periphery I saw a short hispanic man kneeling with a disposable camera tilted on it’s end trying to get a discrete picture, as if somehow I was too big to get into frame otherwise. He saw me notice him and was overcome with shame, his head sunk and his shoulders closed around it. As he started to turn around, his head slung between his shoulders, I smiled and waved him forward.
He lit up, giddy at the opportunity he took the picture, paused a second, then handed his camera to a friend, came over and put his arm around me. We smiled as he took the shot. Then they switched places. I just laughed, really hard. Dust billowing from my lungs. “Come to New York, see a real-live terrorist attack! Get your very own picture taken with a real-live victim.” What I wouldn’t give for a copy of those pictures.
Eventually I said my polite good days and started walking North. On a lark I dug out my cell phone. It was working but all the lines were busy. Liz was clearly the person to call. This classified as “emergency” status. They’d all wonder where I was, if I was alive, and where I’d go. If they’d bothered to trust their instincts they’d know the answers to all those questions, but I’m not here to bore you with my cosmology. Failing that though, I’d call Liz and she’d get the word out. I’d have called Laura just as readily had I known where she was.
In those first 20 minutes, when people were still finishing up their first couple breaths, you could see the fraternity of New York City already in full tilt. Like I said, New Yorkers’ distinguishing characteristic is that they’ve no patience for bullshit. And there was no bullshit in the way here. Something larger than us had happened, and it had given us purpose. It’s a sense of purpose whose flare will die down, but will be integrated forever into The City, forging us all a bit closer together. You could smell the difference.
People had woken up.
Someone once posed the question “How do you wake a person who’s dreaming they’re awake?” I know the answer now. You crack the walls of their dream reality with something they have no choice but to handle, and no basis or tools for handling it.
So many conversations erupted spontaneously in those next few blocks. Busses filled to capacity and beyond were picking up whoever they could, then just heading North to whatever destination they could reach. People in cars were picking up anybody who caught their attention.
I’ve met people I would like to have kept in touch with. Other alumni of the event. I wish I remembered them. But I don’t.
“Well, they started evacuating tower 2 as soon as the plane hit tower 1, which was a 20 minute time difference. It’s just chaotic down here. I wouldn’t worry too much.” In the immortal words of Edward Norton “I’d like to thank the academy.” There was no way I was going to tell this poor guy that no, I think everybody he worked with was just blasted off the face of the Earth.
People on the sidewalk were crowded around parked cars with their doors open or huddled around store window televisions like in the movies, listening to the breaking news on whatever would play it.
I had given up on putting my cell phone back in my bag after every attempt, and just kept hitting redial hoping that at some point I’d get in a window and get through to Liz’s work number. She’d deal with the rest of the calls. It occurred to me that I was walking there as well. She works on 44th street, around the corner from Grand Central Station. It was an easy 3-4 miles away. It was just the easiest place to know to get to. My father works in the Empire State building, but you couldn’t get me near there with a cattle prod and duct tape. Besides, he was in Colorado on vacation.
After some length, but still south enough that the streets had names, not numbers, there was someone standing on the sidewalk nearly shouting “Does anyone need anything?” It was a fairly peculiar site. He was standing underneath some scaffolding in front of a large pair of open doors in a stone building that looked like an old carriage house, scanning the crowd for something. Then he caught sight of me. “Excuse me… do you need something? Men’s room? Some water?”
“No, I’m good man, thanks. Wait, you know, I’ve had to go to the bathroom since I was on the 51st floor of that building.” I knew something mundane was bothering me but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I probably would have gotten all the way uptown before realizing it.
“Right through here sir.”
There was a woman in the men’s room since the ladies room was out of order, so a couple of us waited outside. As I did so I took a bit of a better look around where I was. The people were predominately black, with a couple exceptions. Several of them were missing teeth. They weren’t dressed very well and they all had the same look in their eyes as they watched the exodus from lower Manhattan. It was pure sorrow and compassion. They looked to me and nodded, asked how I was. I imagine it was a look they’ve seen at least as often as worn.
Unfortunately (perhaps) there was no mirror in the bathroom, but the relief was an ecstasy without words. I stepped outside and started talking to a couple guys standing there watching all this goin on shaking their heads. One white guy, a big “biker stereotype” looking fellow and an older less-descript black guy. they were standing there smoking some thin chestnut colored cigarettes I see now and again. I talked with them for a good 15 minutes about who knows what.
Finally I started North again, but paused.
“Hey, where am I anyway?”
“You’re on Bowery.” There’s one in every bunch, usually it’s me.
“No no, this place. What is it?”
“Oh, this is the Bowery Street Mission.”
“Ok, thanks a bunch.”
Of course it was. What the hell else could it have been. A place where people come to blame their impulse to do good on God. Hey, whatever works. It’s the doing that matters, and these people were doing it. I wasn’t.
I couldn’t help but think, as I looked around at the people there and thought about them later, that these are people who have had struggle in their life. I understand that everybody’s pain is based on their own experience and position in life and that it’s not possible to compare. But these people were working on the border of living and surviving. I’m not. I know where my next meal is coming from. If I was particularly worried about it I could probably buy all my meals for the next year tomorrow just to be safe.
Here were people who dedicated some significant portion of themselves to helping others keep their heads above water (or on the wagon as the case may be.) I was diddling with computers at a bond market company. You can argue that my job helps the economy and therefore benefits everybody. But it would be pretty damn thin and I wouldn’t take you very seriously.
I have some idea of my potential as a human. It’s one of those very very few things I believe that sets me apart from most other people. Not that I’m capable of anything more than anyone else, but that I have some visceral idea of the limitlessness of that potential. And there are people in the world that need help. And yes, it IS my responsibility to help them.
Enough of that for now.
I wasn’t half a block away from the mission before I heard it. My body recognized the sound, but my brain didn’t. I looked forward to see people shouting and pointing in a fairly predictable direction. I turned around but couldn’t see anything so I ran up the block to where everybody was standing and turned around again. I still couldn’t see anything. It didn’t occur to me why.
“The second tower just came down.”
Again my mind was wiped completely clean. The destruction was complete. People talked and guessed about how many floors were still standing but that didn’t seem to make much sense.
I understand something now, about my reaction to those events. I wasn’t emotionless. I was experience a level of emotion that could not even be fractionally expressed. The reason to express emotion is to get it out of your head and make it a part of the world. Sometimes that includes removing yourself from it. There were simply not enough tears for crying, nor enough wind for screaming that could possibly express the weight of those buildings coming down on my heart. The attempt would be nearly insulting and would achieve nothing.
With new resolve I walked North.
People kept what they thought was a “safe” distance from me. I must’ve been quite a sight.
I was in the mid 30s when a very well dressed Chinese gentleman approached me and my fly-by-night coterie (my clothes, hair, skin, and backpack white with ash after having been through the sprinklers, then the cloud, gave me away.) He was wearing a white suit, suspenders and a bow tie. He held out his business card towards me with a shaking hand. “I…I…Iwwwas llllate.” He stuttered. “I worked on the 82nd floor of building 2. Are any of the people I worked with alive?” Somewhere in there he said that he wasn’t sure he was making himself clear, so that’s why he was holding out his card.
The rest of the trip to 44th street is a bit of a blur. Probably because it was largely uneventful. I walked with a strangely refreshing singularity of purpose; something that, with a massive case of ADD, I don’t get the chance to enjoy very often.
By the time I arrived, more or less, I had been able to leave a message that I truly enjoyed: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Yes I really said that. In fact, I left that message on 4 answering machines that day. Life is not worth living if not for the sake of humor. And nothing is quite as funny as humor borne of hardship.
I saw Grand Central approaching a block or so away, and all of a sudden I was stopped. Wait, where exactly DID Liz work? I knew it was around there somewhere. So I started weaving between blocks in the low 40s slightly east of Grand Central, to no avail.
For the first time. I decided to sit my ass down. So I chose a nice marble building and backed myself up against it and plopped down on the sidewalk. It occurred to me that I must have looked like a really nasty homeless person with an attitude. That was followed almost immediately with the strange thought that it might not have been a terribly inaccurate comparison.
Sitting down wasn’t going to get me anywhere, and I had a funny feeling that I was the punch line in one of the universe’s simple little amusements. Besides, I was far too high strung to stay in one place for too long. I stood up and turned around to look at the building I was sitting against.
Yep, this was it. Again I reinforced my image as a crazy person, laughing in this state. While people were on ‘smoke break’ out front of the building.
I walked in the building, quite purposefully, and walked right past the guard.
“Uhm… Excuse me.”
I hit the elevator call button and one opened almost immediately as the guard rounded the corner.
“Excuse me! Sir?”
I walked in and hit #4. The doors closed.
Yeah, you’re excused.
I left the elevator and knocked on the glass door to my sister’s place of employment, making great ash smudges that pigpen would have envied.
Poor Ruth, the receptionist. I knew her from nights out with Liz and her posse from work. She looked at me like I was her personal Jacob Marley. It took a couple seconds to realize she need to buzz me in.
“Hi I’m here to see Liz Wilson?” An attempt at disaster humor that was completely lost on poor Ruth.
“She’s not here. Laura came and got her and they went to her apartment… Uhh… Liz’s that is… thinking that you’d go there.”
Great. Liz lived on east 6th street. Almost all the way back.
“Well, what the hell would she think that for?” A rhetorical question. I really didn’t want to walk downtown 2 miles, especially not against the tide of crazed desperate New Yorkers, however tightly bonded they were.
Christie, another friend of Liz’s came in about then and “oh my god”ed up a storm. So I started with the “yeah, I was in there.” and went through the highlights. Ruth had been on the phone. She started relating what I was saying, but then resigned herself to just holding the phone out what I talked. It was a pretty strange scene as people came in and out past me wondering who I was.
Yep. Back South. It was a much quicker walk down to East 6th street. I went east a couple blocks to get away from the madness, but it was still like trying to iceskate uphill.
There’s a little strip-mall looking arrangement in the low 30s down on 2nd avenue or so. They have a bunch of cafe’ tables out. But the whole thing is pretty contrived in a Murray Hill kind of way. I became quite the attraction as I walked through there.
I don’t remember what got me stopped to talk, but there were a few separate groups there. One girl asked me about people she knew in the high 90s. This was beginning to get old and somewhere down in there I cracked…
“Wanna know what I think? I was on the 51st floor of building 1 and I damn near didn’t get out.” She handled it pretty well. they must not have been great friends. Besides, what was I going to say: “I think your friend have been liquefied?”
Another girl approached me in almost the same spot ( probably just waiting until I was done with the first one) and started talking about how how she’s spent almost 10 years setting up this deal where she’d be working with some company (I think she mentioned a phone company, but I can’t be sure) and she finally got the deal, started working in WTC the day before and moved into an apartment 2 blocks from there 3 days earlier. She wanted to know if she had an apartment.
I felt really bad for her. She ventured a bunch to come out here from some middle America suburb state to try and make it happen in the big city. She didn’t know anybody out here. But I was just not clear enough in my head. I didn’t know what to tell her, other than I didn’t know what to tell her. Frankly I should have taken her with me. It was the only right thing to do. But I didn’t. I kept walking.
I was beginning to get a blister on my thumb from hitting redial. But the phone did something strange this time, on about 31st street, it rang. I held it up to my head and Liz answered her apartment phone.
“Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” No WAY I was going to waste an opportunity like that.
All I really remember was a whole lot of incoherent excitement and sniffly babbling.
“I’m coming there. I’m on 31st street. I’ll be there when I get there. It won’t be real soon.”
“Uhm… Uh… Ok… Uhm.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty happy I’m alive too. I’ll see you in a few.”
There were some cracks in the cell phone blackout and I was able to leave “Reports of my death” messages on several machines. My father scolded me much later, saying “I know you think that’s funny…” Sorry Dad. I’m allowed to think that’s funny.
I eventually got there of course. It was about an hour later, factoring in all the mini encounters and conversations I had on the way down.
I stopped at the corner deli and bought a 2 liter bottle of regular coke, a half pound of salted cashews and some other yummy stuff.
She buzzed me in and I started climbing the stairs. I really learned to hate stairs that day. When I got to the 3rd floor I could hear Laura out in the hall. I started thinking about what they must be doing and had a uniquely sharp thought.
“The television MUST be off before I get there.” My message was relayed and the telltale sound of “dramatic news background music” died. I didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to deal with the news yet.
Now this is where I’d put some emotional scene about the cosmic relief of being together with my sisters. I’m sure it happened pretty much that way. But frankly, I don’t remember anything like that. My memory skips forward to sitting on my ass on Liz’s floor so I wouldn’t shit up her couch and taking off my shirt and backpack, then plumpfing down in a newly formed cloud that would make pigpen green with envy.
Liz, Laura, and Dan were sitting around wondering what the hell to say. they were doing an honorable job at trying not to stare. But frankly, nothing would have bothered me less.
I have to say it all peters off a bit here. I sat on the roof and watched the burning rubble, a couple miles south, for a long time while they whispered downstairs, wondering about my mental state.
We ate chinese food and I spent a lot of time sitting on the floor, being watched. Laura headed out and bought me a pair of jeans and a shirt. I gummed up Liz’s shower with dust and grime, the contents of which make me shudder still. At about 2 in the morning I walked home over the Manhattan Bridge.
I did still have an internet connection and I signed on to ICQ/AIM/YIM. I spent a couple hours going back and forth with people about what had happened. I tracked down a couple relatives and friends for people who couldn’t get in touch. It was really something.
Eventually I passed out.
And it was days before I ventured in to Manhattan again. I walked in and headed to 8th street to have some lunch at Johnny Rockets. I know, not impeccable fare. But as a “taste of America” you can’t beat a place that serves vanilla coke, egg creams, and diner food. It was exactly what I needed and wanted. I felt like a blood cell in the organism of my city, and the best thing I could do was get back up to speed quickly.
It was weeks before I went back to work (a sanctioned leave frankly.)
But that’s another story.
Last Edit: 9/16/2020
Okay, so here it is. This is the index of the final 9/11 posts. The original account as I published it in 2003, a couple “epilogue/prologue” posts I made a year or two after the fact, so named because I thought of them as at least as much of a beginning of a new life as they were an epilogue to the original 9/11 account. Finally I’ve added the final edit of the original account. A lot of people flinched somewhat badly at the notion that I needed to edit the original. So I’ve included both versions.
I found, when editing it, that the abject pathos I ended it with was unbearable. While it DID reflect my state of mind about the whole thing, it doesn’t any more. So it was a struggle to know what to change and what to leave. So while the “Final” version is subject to more edits, I won’t change the original.
I find it strange, somehow, that these get the traction that they do. But they do and I am, however slowly, coming to terms with all of that. It reminds me of the original blog back in the day, how it was the day-to-day posts that people were the most interested in, rather than the things that were specific pieces of writing that were arguably “written for others” rather than being an “inside of history” look at my life.
AS time goes forward I may add to this list of links. Re-editing and writing these posts over the last few days has really brought some things forward in my mind and I’m gonna have some…thoughts.
So here. I’ll cut the fucking foreplay here and just post the links.
I’ve been on a roll, so I hitched up the horse and buggy and headed in to town at about noon. I needed to hit walmars for a bunch of cheap usb sticks, a hub, and some diet soda for the session. But then came right over to the cigar lounge, where I half dreaded the idea of a fulfilled promise of someone who said they’d meet me there, not taking the hint when I kept repeating that I come here to write and work, not to hang out.
I set my bag down to claim the high-top in the back room, hit the head, and went in to the humidor. After some deliberation I picked up 2 fuentes, 2 tatuajes and an avo I’d never smoked and brought them up to the counter where the other guy, a late 20 something whose name I’d never caught, was working at a shipment of something I couldn’t quite see.
I put my cigars down and he didn’t look up. I was wondering if he’d not noticed me, which…doesn’t make a lot of sense. I take up a lot of room, physically and otherwise.
“Hey man, how’s it going?” Nothing for a second.
“Can I ask you a question real quick?” He asked with more of a drawl than most people have down here.
“Why are you always so punctual?” Punctual?
“Yeah I been meaning to ask you for a hot minute.” He glanced up.
“Am I? I didn’t think I was that consistent.” I thought over the last few days, maybe I was. But wait…he didn’t work the afternoons Monday and Tuesday. Did they….was I THAT much of a topic of conversation? That’d be weird.
“You’re doing it right now.” W…what? Ohhhh….heh.
“I…don’t think ‘punctual’ is the word you mean. Punctual means ‘on time’.” Buy a dictionary, kids.
“Your personality.” I was starting to get a hint of what he meant. “Do you have a life philosophy?” He continued, just looking down into the cases of lighters he was unboxing.
I wasn’t aware that I showed up on this guy’s radar at all. He’s just a low key dude who works at the cigar lounge. Always ready with a wave and a “See ya Mike. Have a good one.” But never really engaging in conversation or small talk.
It was an interesting question, now that I’d deciphered it, and it deserved an answer.
“Well, I’ve been through a lot of shit in my life so I figure I’m not gonna pay that forward.” It was a round already in the magazine.
“Like what?” He still wasn’t making eye contact, busying himself with his newly arrived stock.
I wasn’t going to go that deep this fast with someone. Not before a cigar at least.
“Well you know, you encounter people all the time who are in a pissy mood and make it other peoples’ problems. Then those people go on in their day pissed off and spread it around. It creates a downward spiral. I’m not going to be a part of that. Someone is in a pissy mood or if I’m in a pissy mood it’s my responsibility to make sure that shit ends with me. Ya know, it’s kinda funny you say that because I HAVE heard that a couple times.
“I was in the elevator in my old apartment building, wearing a sportcoat, heading to my cigar bar downtown and this old guy in the elevator asked if I was heading to a party. I replied ‘hell I bring the party with me wherever I go’ with a wink. He said ‘that’s what I like about you. You’re always in a good mood.’ ” Which…wasn’t STRICTLY true. But that’s kinda the point.
“Do you worry a lot?” DaFUQ?
“Yep. Always have.”
“Why?” Fuck, dude.
“Guess I’m wired that way. Hell that’s half the reason I come in here and write.”
“But the way you are, people notice that.” I just looked at him quizzically. “Yea people will notice that and form an opinion of you.”
I shrugged in response. I just didn’t get where he was coming from with all of this.
“Yeah then people are going to pay attention to you.”
Entertainingly, my anxiety kicked in and I didn’t trust myself to say anything, so I just ended the conversation with “Welp, I’m gonna go back and write a bit and burn off some of the madness.” Yeah I knew exactly what I was going to write about.
Guys I don’t get it. What the hell was he talking about. The expression on his face was earnest. He was trying to figure something out and perhaps trying to remind me of something I hadn’t thought of.
His gaze lingered as I walked to the back room where I’d dropped my laptop and bag of toys, clearly not done with the conversation. But it was just too fucking weird for me. Sit down and have that talk, sure. They’re interesting points. But I need to figure out where you’re coming from so I know how to frame my responses. It’s not a talk to have while I’m waiting for you to take my money for cigars, with someone waiting behind me.
I feel like Lewis Black after the “If it wasn’t for my horse, I’d never have spent that year in college” moment. It’s just ripping around in my head “What the hell did all of that MEAN? What was the contextual frame he was querying from?”
The implication SEEMED to be that standing out in a crowd was a fundamental negative. But there just wasn’t enough context to thread those apparent non-sequiturs together.
But it was startling to me how well it dovetailed with a conversation I had last night with Colt and Tarrant.
I came back here, plugged in my laptop, signed in, lit my Avo (fucking delicious by the way, a South American wrapper of some kind with an orange and green wrapper, so…Brazilian?) and started typing…
“I’ve been on a roll…”
Fuck it. I’m just gonna post this like this and move on to the other project I’ve been working on. But I’m going to come back to these topics as some of them were on the slate for the next couple days anyway.
Here’s the 2003 file “E/P #3: Where now?”:
There’s so much that could have gone in those two epilogue/prologue posts that didn’t. Perhaps I’ll flesh them out here for myself, perhaps not. [Note from 18 years later: Apparently “not” was the right answer.]
9/11 was, as I’ve described, if not in so many words, one of the best things that’s ever happened to my life. It’s a statement that people rarely are prepared for, or have a reaction to. That’s not important.
I am not “a different person” as it were. It is more properly stated that “I am more of who I am”.
My compassion for people has grown, but my patience for bullshit has waned. Both, dramatically.
Am I where I want to be? No. Not by any means. (as is evidenced by my blatherings over at “Emerging Success”. [Note from the future: Emerging Success is a defunct blog I’d started to track, well, if you can’t figure it out I can’t help you]) I have nearly reached the bottom of my own deconstruction. A great many things still frighten me. I have no idea what the next year will bring, and I’m wary of such silliness as “well I know it’s not gonna get any worse.”
The “downfall” was, in larger part than you’re likely to believe, premeditated. I did not know how I would get here or what I would do once I got here, but I heard the whispers in my own mind when I left
work that this was a bigger thing than not wanting to do that any more.
Now I’ve cleaned house. My self worth can no longer come from how many digits are in my salary or what neighborhood I live in or where I eat dinner or drink alcohol. It can only come from me, and that was the goal all along.
Now I’m starting my way back up. Have no doubt that I’ll get there, in whatever form that takes. It’s my most sincere hope that I can help others do the same; as many others as possible.
And woe be to the misguided fool stands in my way. Especially if it’s me.
I sit now, 9/15/2020, in The Smokey Cigar lounge in Hendersonville, Tennessee. It’s probably 17 years since I wrote the above (couple inline edits notwithstanding) and..I’m about done with these historic treatments. I spent a good deal of yesterday’s massively productive writing session editing the original account. But I want to sit on it for a couple days before reposting the updated version because I really don’t want to look at the thing again. It’s valuable. It’s important to have gotten it right. But…it’s almost 20 years ago. It’s the past.
We get to decide what relevance the events of our lives have on us. It’s one of the few things we can really control.
As my friend from those days Sophie said the other day on Facebook, having read the account for the first time a couple days ago “it was a watershed moment for all of us.” And of course that’s true. God wound up a bat and smacked us on the side of our head…hard. How we handled that event was up to us.
As you can see if you’ve, for whatever reason, had the patience to read all of that, I tried really hard to make it work for me. And I did a pretty good job there for a few years.
BUT… well… if you’re not honest with yourself you can’t be honest with anyone else. Sometimes, I’ve found, the earnest desire to be honest with others can pull you forward to be honest with yourself at times when you might otherwise let polite fictions rule the day. It’s an interesting phenomenon and one I’ve only recently been able to articulate.
In that spirit I have to confess that my life in the meantime has fallen somewhat massively encouraging notes of The Three Epilogues. Yes. At the time I was motivated by an absolute intolerance of myself and what my life had become. I ripped myself to pieces and “threw myself at the sword of life as though I were already dead” to paraphrase a great line in deliciously pulpy bit of scifi.
But at the end of a few years it was clear that “NO MORE” is great for deconstructing a life, but a really fucking shitty foundation upon which to build one. You can’t build on a premise of destruction of the past (something being made increasingly obvious by the current news cycle.)
Intoxicated by my successes in actually doing what I set out to do, I missed that and, not having a plan I slipped ever so slowly back in to my old life. Changed, sure. Those events and the resulting couple years bent my head around a post and I stick with the assessment that 9/11 was a great event in my life.
I met a girl at one of those weekend “Club Getaway” trips with whom I hit it off quite well. There was always a bit of distance between us. But we just got along well. She was smart, cute and about eight years older than me. She got me a job, my first since I “Office Space”d my previous one a couple years earlier.
I moved back down to Brooklyn and had one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had. She worked on the trading floor and I worked as a programmer in the adjoining building in midtown. They were 10-12-14 hour days with a brutal stress level, REALLY shitty management and a workload that I found tough to cope with.
But shitty shops make for the greatest esprit de corps in the professional world. To put this in perspective for some of you, I was working in the fixed income arm of the financial industry in the mid 2000s. It was a pretty rough time. We got along really well as a team. But I would just snap at people when I encountered what I thought was an injustice or a mismanagement. It was hard not to resent the higher ups from the front lines.
It wore me down pretty quickly.
Here’s a thing that happened more than a couple times:
Get in to the office by 7:30. Work through the day until 6 or later. Someone would have declared that we needed to go out afterwards. So we’d meet at Mad Monk or The Black Bear Lodge (now sadly gone) and just drink ourselves stupid. Drinking was easy when you lived in NYC because you could always walk out of the bar, hold your hand up, and a yellow car would just appear as if by magic and take you home. It just took money, but fuck it. I was making plenty of that, even with my horrible negotiating skills.
So we’d drink ‘til last call (4am in NYC) and one or two of us would wander around looking for something to eat, sit down in Veselka and sober ourselves up with pirogis or something. “Well, no reason to even bother going home. Let’s just head back into the office.” Then, still drunk we’d show up “early” and work a full day.
Well, 36 hours awake and the day ending some smartass would say “who’s up for a drink?” and we’d go out. No, we wouldn’t repeat the whole procedure. But it was bad.
My manager and I would butt heads like a couple of rams but it was always within the bounds of the job. When we could get him to come out with us we had a blast and left the horseshit at the office.
The job was awful but it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on this planet.
I was also still hanging out with some of my friends from Social Circles (which I’d long since quit, being too damned expensive) here and there, which would result in more “hey come out after work, we’ll still be at soandso’s” and all of us going to Penn Station at the end of the night to shepherd one of the girls to their train safely before dispersing. Lots of 5am nights just sitting on the floor of Penn.
A lot happened and I’ve either written about it here or will over the coming days and weeks. See, I’m going through a massive life recapitulation now. Last week’s injection of life into my 9/11 account has caused me, in the editing of these little accounts, to think long and hard about what my life has and hasn’t become in the intervening 18 years.
But the crux of it, as I mentioned, is this: Without a plan I drifted pretty badly. It took a couple more “NO MORE” events to get me to act in my own self interest. The gravity of comfort is just too damned high for me to have escaped with that as a motivation.
I’m far better off than I was back then, but I find myself still floundering around somewhat aimlessly, looking for purpose. I have a house on 8 acres of land in middle Tennessee now and am trying to decide what to do next, to decide what’s worth doing. My hobbies and habits feel like placeholders and time sinks to distract myself from the truth of my life which is that I’ve thusfar absolutely, unequivocally, unarguably failed my potential.
The fact that I even write the same paragraph over and over is indication enough that I don’t know where to go next. As I asked Ivan, Mr. Swift, Alexander Cortes and the assembled room at The Feast of War in Denver a couple Februarys ago “Where do you FIND sacred purpose if you have none?” They didn’t really have an answer for me. But how could they have?
Jordan Peterson suggests an answer when he says (and I’m going to fuck this up) that you find purpose by attending to yourself and your environment, clearing away the noise and chaos you’ve put in your own way. Then one will become increasingly apparent.
Well that’s a nice thought. But my immediate reaction is “I don’t have that kind of time anymore.”
Complacency is the enemy and I’m not sure how making sure I mop the floor every other Monday is going to help.
But I had a thought as I stopped for a moment to hit the restroom: I’m going to close up here in a minute and hit Johnathan’s because one of my friends’ last day working there is tomorrow and today and tomorrow are all that’s left.
I have a lot of friends there, a few far better ones otherwise. There are so many things in this incarnation of my life for which I am humbly grateful. And, as nauseatingly New Age as it is, I don’t spend enough time reflecting on these things.
I can do anything from here. I’m nominally retired (for now) and can pretty much do whatever I decide from here on out.
At the end of the day, it’s pretty damned good being me. Maybe I could give myself a break and stop panicking about my next stage. Hell, I doubt it. But it’s something to shoot for.
I’ve sure got a lot of writing to do in the meantime though.
I’m hoping I didn’t completely shoot my wad on #1. The day is long and I want to get this out.
I’m a relatively obsessive journaler. I have boxes of pages from all manner of media. Wire bound journals, printed out e-journals, typewritten pages (using an old 1930’s Royal typewriter), for a while I was using fountain pens and well-crafted parchment. These complete books (complete as in fully filled out, not as in complete depiction) span my life from slightly more than the last 20 years. On a day to day basis I’ve always got at least one notebook on me. Though if you count those little shirt-pocket 3×5 card wallets there are a couple, and if I have my messenger bag on me there are a whole lot more. Don’t even get me started on the number of pens. If a writer tells you they don’t have a pen, they’re either lying or the world has gone horribly wrong.
Writing is the only thing that has been able to perfectly the dispel depression and malaise that I’m fairly regularly inflicted with. In my darkest moments I’ve always known that if I could somehow will myself to get pen to paper (not always a foregone conclusion) I would “write it out of me”. Often times the self-involved nature of depression makes it exceedingly difficult to make this happen. But that’s life.
Over the last 5 or so years I have made an annual ritual of spending New Year’s Eve reading the entirety of the year’s journal entries and using that to help me recalibrate the differences between where I thought I was and where I ‘actually’ found myself. It wasn’t quite a full Castenadan recapitulation. But it’s helped me kick myself back in to play when my life has gone awry more than a couple times.
As you might imagine, this got a little weird in 2001. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
In the era B-9/11 I was a pretty typical computer geek. I passed it off in public a bit better than most, but all the signs were really there. I had a deathly fear of people and interactions with them. An indeterminably large part of my motivation for being good with computers was that they are arbitrarily intricate as well as being NOT PEOPLE which, if I’m being honest was a virtue in that I could never fail in their judgement, segfaults notwithstanding.
I was afraid of calling for pizza. Indeed any interaction with people that I didn’t know very well was a harsh and abrasive affair Why? Who knows. I’ve stopped worrying about why.
The way I figure it you get to about 22-23 years old before you’re no longer allowed to blame your existence on your childhood and parents. After that your life is your fault. Strictly speaking it happens before that. But in today’s culture I’m inclined to let out some rope. Of course if you can’t make that deadline there’s a far better than even chance you remain prisoner to those excuses.
I didn’t date and instead relied on friends of friends methods of meeting women (I dated a fair number of friends of my sisters.) My friends primarily came from other people’s friends. Most people I knew I had met from hanging out with my sisters. I didn’t leave my apartment much, played LOTS of video games (especially with the advent of MMORPGS. I could pretend I was interacting with people from the comfort of my computer.)
I kept to myself unless you already knew me. I had very few friends and fewer acquaintances. I didn’t socialize with people where I worked. Nothing. It was a lonely self-induced existence.
On one hand, I learned to be fairly emotionally self-sufficient. I am my own person and don’t (and never have) relied on the presence of others to feel relaxed and complete. But rather than call myself an introvert I believe it would be more accurate to say I was a frustrated extrovert. Once I felt at home in a situation (a state that could either come through many years of friendship or several glasses of alcohol) I was golden, and people would express a fair amount of disbelief (as mentioned above.)
On December 31, 2001 I read through my journal entries of that year, trying to figure out what was wrong. 9/11 had left me with some horrible survivor guilt, coupled with a certain kind of loneliness it made for a dangerous alchemy of poisonous self-worth. Once I started hearing about the phenomenon of “survivor guilt” I exercised enough self-awareness to understand it for what it was and pull myself up by my own bootstraps. I was quite thankfully able to compartmentalize the feeling when it came up. “No wait that’s just this phenomenon. Let it be and abide the timeless wisdom of urologists everywhere: ‘This too shall pass.’” So it never really became the chronic problem that it has been for some people. I suppose all tolled it was really bad for about 3 months. But the weight of it all forced my eyes at my life and demanded that I take objective (sic) inventory, throw out what needed to go and replace it with what I wanted it to be. Life is only short if it’s misspent.
The critical realization was that with some obvious exceptions I only really remembered about a dozen days of 2001. Oh sure, there were events that I could recall, things that had happened that I could place in time more or less. But that year was simply not otherwise noteworthy. If it hadn’t happened my life wouldn’t have been appreciably different.
My new year’s resolution became “Get a Life” (no no… literally.)
A few weeks earlier I had been in Barnes & Noble on Astor place, and next to the magazine racks there was a rack of 5×7 advertisement cards (these are tough to describe if you’ve never seen them, but they’re pretty ubiquitous in Manhattan.) One caught my eye from a company called “Social Circles”. They planned events, dinners, outings, trips, etc. for people who didn’t have the time to do it themselves, or who were new to the city and didn’t really know what to do (NYC is pretty damn daunting that way.) It’s “not a singles thing”, which was good. I didn’t really need that kind of pressure. Just a bunch of people doing stuff. Of course every thing that organizes groups of people is a singles thing for the singles involved. But there was a nod and a wink about it all.
I sent them an email immediately. They were closed on 1/1, but I scheduled an interview for the second. The fact that they required an interview caused me to hold in a half breath. But they explained there that there are enough trolls in the world that it makes sense to interview for a social club. So the interview wasn’t memorable, I wrote them a check (a big check if I remember correctly) and it took 2 weeks to get everything processed.
Their schedule is furious. Every day there are multiple events. You sign up via email, get a confirmation, and they tell you where to show up and when, who the “check in” person is and bill your credit card (unless it’s a normal dinner-like event, then everybody decides how to handle the bill on the spot.) VERY convenient. In the first 60 days as a member I attended 63 events. All while working. It wasn’t cheap.
I painted pottery, saw Blue Man Group, went Ice Skating (for the first time in 27 years) rock climbing, took weird classes (tai chi, book binding, meditation, fencing) went to some great restaurants I would never have found otherwise and I went to a couple happy hours. There were between 8 and 20 people at each event (sans the happy hours, which numbered in the hundreds) and probably about 10% overlap. The total member count numbers in the thousands.
In February, not having been a member for a full month I went to my first “New Member Mixer” where hordes of people attend and are given cute little questionnaires to fill out (name 4 attendees with the same star sign, etc.) More than once someone would grab their friend, pull them over and say “This is Mike, that guy I told you about who does EVERYthing.”
I threw myself into these situations where I knew NOBODY again and again and forced myself to become fluid, engaging, gregarious and comfortable. And I succeeded. It was exhausting and glorious.
I signed up for the two international trips they held that year (Costa Rica and Galapagos.) I did all kinds of stuff. I couldn’t show up at an event any longer without knowing several people there. And it was good.
On another front in my life I by chance, discovered the nerve.com personals. I thought I’d flip through them just for kicks and I saw one I HAD to respond to. However, in order to respond you need to have a profile up. So I filled one out (dangerously tailoring it to the one I’d found.) And I responded. I had a damn fun dinner but she was getting involved with someone at the time and didn’t want to jeopardize that. (No no, it wasn’t an excuse. Those came later from others.)
But I started looking at others and responding to them. I had backed off a bit on Social Circles events and really just redirected my energy in nerve.com land. I went on a whole lot of first dates. Lots of seconds, and even a few thirds. The first few were really tough. Sitting across a table from a complete stranger trying to decide whether or not to get to know someone while selling yourself and while they’re doing the same is really tough.
I learned a great deal from that. There really are a disproportionate of money-hungry husband hunters in the world (or at least in the city.) Frequently (it ended up happening a dozen times during 2002) I received the following email “I had a really great time with you, but I unexpectedly got back together with my ex-boyfriend this past weekend. Can we still be friends?” It took me FAR too long to realize this was the excuse of the day.
There were a couple times when it was not, there are now a couple amazing human beings (by any reasonable estimation) who I am blessed with whom I’ll be friends for many dozens of years.
My experiences were as varied as they get from the online dating scene. There’s the “play Misty for me” (look it up) that STILL calls and hangs-up, completely unaware of the wonders of caller ID. There was the freaky casual sex (which is “almost” always over-rated), there was the “that could have been a relationship if I had seen the forest for the trees then.” (ah well.)
After I left work in May I toned everything down a bit. But now and again I will walk into a bar, cold, knowing nobody, and be completely comfortable interjecting myself into a running conversation and somehow be accepted into it. I don’t have to get “completely wrecked” to have a good time. I flirt really well and love giving compliments to women on the street that I’ll never see again (almost as much as to ones that I will.)
I really did it. I molded how I behaved to the person I know I am. There’s progress to be made, always of course. But the people I know now with whom I spent time on trips, at dinners and events; people whom I’ve dated, etc. They don’t believe I was ever afraid to pick up the phone and call for pizza.
Now I rub my hands together and maniacally ask “Hmm… what ELSE am I afraid of?” Yes. There’s still a great deal. But I’m listing those things and working through them.
And I really have 9/11 to thank for that.
I’m not going to rehash the account of my experiences 2 years ago today. What I am going to do is, in more than one part, describe the effect on my life. It will surprise you.
What I find particular is the effect it had on my interaction with people. I don’t mean that gushing hippy oneness with my brothers and sisters in NYC. That was cute for about a week. If I have to hear about “New Yorkers banding together” one more time I’m going to single-handedly rebalance the scale. Shut the fuck up, go back to Woodstock and take a shower you ridiculous rainbow hippy freak…
But I digress 🙂
After 9/11 the company I worked for moved to a “disaster recovery” space in Jersey City. My commute went from a 20 minute walk (across the Brooklyn Bridge) to a 1 1/2 hour mass transit fest. Into Manhattan, then a several block walk to the Jersey Transit “Path” trains (the path trains are essentially an independent subway system that’s designed to connect northern Jersey with Manhattan.) Those would take me into JC and then there was a bit of a hike to the office.
Every morning and afternoon we had to contend with people packed like sardines on trains, pushing and shoving each other to be the first out the door when they pulled into station, then running to the stairs only to clog them up with a 10 minute wait while cops tried half-heartedly to manage the crowds. More often than is healthy they wouldn’t be able to get everybody out of the path station before the next train came in, leading to a chain reaction of jammed up bodies, already angry at 7:15 in the morning. All this with the smells and the heat.
After too long I, like any New Yorker worth their salt, knew which doors to use on the train that would put me closest to the exit. I would stand right next to the door and “ease” (if you could call it that) my way right in front of it so that when it opened, I was out like a shot. I already knew which turnstile I was going to leave from, which side of the stairs I would emerge through, exactly what route I would take to get to work past the bagel place where I’d go in and shout “everything toasted little bit of creamcheese” while I was still 4th in line so that when I was finally first with exact change in hand, they handed me my bagel in a bag and I sped out the door with a hearty “have a nice day” and was off to work in the shortest possible time. My ass would hit the aeron chair by 7:32 am.
I was a good little commuting monkey.
For about a month.
The environment into which we had settled while our new building was being built was what some people describe as “trading floor”. Now, these weren’t traders. It was just a room full of long tables with computers and people lined up.
Most of the company was sales and customer relations. Then there was the geek squad which consisted of 5 or so teams of about 3-4 people each. But all day there was the shouting of “Fidelity on line 6! Deutche on 2! Is Jimmy even here today!?! God that jacket is so last season! What did you do last night? Jesus christ I said Fidelity on 6!” From 8:30 am to 5. (which is why I came in as early as I did.)
Ever try to think in that environment? Frankly the cacophony of my own thoughts makes it hard enough to do anything, without having to listen to every irrepressibly articulated non-thought from 100+ sales and marketing monkeys within a 50 foot radius. There was one girl in our marketing department (of 2 people) who had the strongest “ya know, like, valley girrrlll” accent I’ve ever heard. She grew up (insofar as she ever will) in Scarsdale. Scarsdale is in New York, a bit north of the city. “The Valley” is SoCal. You do the math.
We had a trading system that pretty much everybody had up and running at their desks. It was all centrally controlled and had an opening bell sound that would ring as the market opened. Well, one time the techs decided to change the sound. I noticed them snickering to each other and 9:30 hit….”CRASH!” A huge cacophonous explosion came out of about 80 computers all at once.
People lost their SHIT. More than one screamed. The guys in the corner were laughing like maniacs. It was really funny but…in February 2002…in reMARKABLY bad taste.
So I brought in some headphones and a couple CDs a day that I would rip. At least I could focus on my Buddha Bar CDs (those are great to program to!) But I could still always hear what was going on around me.
Add to that the fact that it was a CMM level -3 development shop, with production software being built on developer’s PCs and QA being entirely circumvented if it was convenient. So I started (in addition to my waning workload) developing automated test tools, build scripts, all the great toys you need for a mature development shop.
I was a good little coding monkey.
For about 6 months.
My workload had dwindled (our project was moved into production and tested rather exhaustively. I’m a frameworks and infrastructure guy so from then on the addition of business functionality was handled quite well by the rest of my team.)
I was exhausted. All the time. By the time I fought my morning campaign to get to work I was tapped out. The rising noise level had me pulling my hair out by 10:00 in the morning. Every petty concern and trivial thought anyone in the office would have was voiced, loudly. As a friend of mine says “I can’t not listen because I can’t not hear.” It perfectly reflects what went on in my head.
Because I had less put upon me to do my mind had more focus to spend on the content of the surrounding din. Who was getting married to whom, office romances, whose fashion sense was “just…like… off”.
I was unsatisfied, unchallenged, and perpetually annoyed.
One Monday morning in mid April, 2002, I sat thinking about all this while sitting at my desk, in the calm between the commute and the noise in work. I thought about the cost of my rent. I thought about the amount of money I had socked away. I thought about the trip to Costa Rica that I’d planned and paid for already. In that strangely calm moment I realized I’d had enough. I was done.
I distinctly remember looking straight ahead and thinking “I don’t want to do this any more.” Apparently I’d thought it rather loudly because everyone within a 15′ radius stopped and looked at me. Apparently I’d said it with a tone that left no doubt as to what I meant. So I turned to my boss, sitting at my right and said “yeah… we’ve gotta talk.” A bead of sweat dripped down his forehead.
So we went to an aisle where nearly nobody sat and he asked what was up. I went through most of what I’ve just said (thought it wasn’t quite as clearly formed in my mind then) and I added “I just have to go.” He asked if I’d received a better offer, etc. All those questions a surprised manager asks.
“Nope. I’ve just got to go. I think I’m going to take the rest of the year off, do some travelling, and put my head back on straight and see which way it’s pointing. I figure I’ll start looking again in January.”
His reaction surprised me, and it’s a reaction I’ve received pretty consistently since then (it surprises me still.) “I envy you. I wish I was secure enough to do that.”
So in early May, 2002, I walked from an obscenely well-paying job; because no amount of money was worth my soul.
I spent the remainder of 2002 traveling (infrequently) meeting people, being social, working on my own projects (this weblog began during my last week on the job.) I went to Costa Rica in June and the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador in October/November (both with Social Circles.) I spent a few weekends up at Club Getaway in Kent, Ct. I was out meeting people and doing things for the better part of 7 months.
When I got back from Ecuador it was time to start looking for work. So I started with the recruiters and online job sites. The response was less than stellar and the masses of the employment industry said “Oh no. Not this late in the year. Start again in January or so, when new projects are allocated.”
It seemed sensible enough, so I waited. In January 2003 I blasted my resume out there, had a call schedule and started committing myself to 10-15 job applications a day.
Nary a peep.
Undaunted for several months I just kept at it. I had a couple interviews (really just a couple) that went wrong for one reason or another. Usually it was business-level requirements. (When it became a buyers market the job requirements became much more stringent in terms of long-term industry experience. As a career contractor I’d bounced industries rather steadily.)
But I was a good little job-hunting monkey.
For about 6 months.
…and I started to worry. The last time I had looked for a job it went like this: On Sunday night at midnight I put my resume up on monster.com, hotjobs.com and nettemps.com. Monday morning at 10:30 I had 9 messages on my answering machine. It was a different world.
I watched my cash stores dwindle. I started going out much less frequently (you can’t really walk out the door in the city without dropping $40 unless you go to the pizza place and back.) I slept less and less and needed more and more caffeine just to be interested enough to get going. Nytol at night, Stacker III in the morning. 10-15 job applications became 5-10, which became up to 5. Then it rapidly dwindled to “well… let’s see if there’s anything out there today.”
Before too long it was “maybe I’m not that good at what I do.” and “you quit? and you’ve been doing what for the last year?”
I’ve always known that at some point I would burn out on being someone else’s programmer. I love what I do and will always do it. But at some point you have to do what you do on your own terms. It takes too long to develop relationships with managerial staff to create the trust required so that I can do what it is I do best, which is exceed expectations in entirely unexpected ways. Far too often people you work for/with are simply not open to letting someone fly on a project. (this makes perfect business sense and I don’t fault people for it. But there are people who are exceptions. Up at H2-L21 for instance. (Yes, there are 1-2 people who will get that reference. The rest of you, don’t ask.))
In my long term goals, industry change was 5-10 years away. That’s 5-10 years to reduce my standard of living, figure out where I want to go and educate myself enough to get an entry-level job in that field. A healthy approach and healthy amount of time. (my current situation simply does not allow for an industry change. My monthly expenses are about $3500 a month.)
I have been beginning to think that I needed to speed up that schedule a little. People from most aspects of my life have been saying things like “well, you should clean up your apartment just in case you have to move.” and “you know, if you need a place to stay for a couple months…” I have amazing friends.
One month ago I received a sudden strange opportunity. Someone was going away for 6 months and was in desperate need of a house-sitter. Rent free. Furnished. Everything. Starting October. The lease on my $2100 apartment ends at the end of September. The decision took about 3 minutes and one phone call to my customer service representative at “First Bank of Reality”, my sister, for a check.
Now my apartment is full of boxes and I’ve taken this day, the 2 year anniversary, to reflect and write. But next week I’m going on a trip to Iceland for a week (that was paid for back when I thought I could still afford it, thank the gods.) and I’ll have a week or so once I get back to get out.
For six months I will have virtually $0 living expenses. On one hand I’m living on borrowed everything. On the other hand?
My life is proceeding 5-10 years ahead of schedule.
I would never wish the terror, death, and destruction of 9/11/2001 on anyone. And would (to hyperbolicly understate my case) rather it not have happened. I would rather the firemen and police I passed on my way down the stairs have all made it out. I would rather nobody’s father, mother, brother, sister, lover, wife, husband, friend, enemy, died there.
But. Given that it did…
I’d go through it again in a heartbeat. Because, you see…
I would never have done this on my own. I would never have had the strength and courage, given the “golden handcuffs of doom” path I was on, to shake myself up, break myself down to virtually nothingness, to a point where I was completely unable to look into the mirror in order to rebuild my life as I see fit. From scratch.
Without the gift to my life that was 9/11.
“It is only after we have given up everything, that we are free to do anything.”
I started posting this as a twitter thread, but it got wordy fast, so now y’all are stuck with this stream of consciousness.
I’ve now read The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson 4 times and listened to the audio book no less than 5 times. I don’t even want to count the number of times I’ve listened to the audio version of the Bobiverse books, or read the Honor Harrington series (both audio and kindle/hardcopy.)
For some reason I only just realized how well this equates to the phenomenon I was referring to in a previous incarnation a couple months ago about enjoying music.
I’ve recently gotten to a point where consuming something repeatedly is, for lack of a better phrase, “not intense enough.” Even what other people might consider to be insidious pop music, if it hits me just right I’ll need to listen to it over and over again, not for hours, but days. Thousands of iterations, looking for something in there that I’m not quite getting. Hence the description that listening isn’t quite intense enough.
There have been something close to a dozen people I’ve tried to communicate this to. Most of them of course react the way I’ve come to expect, starting at “Dude that’s really weird” and shading down from there. Fair enough, not a shared experience. Odd that even the musicians I know seem to just blink at me.
A couple, and ONLY a couple have excitedly pointed in my face with a “YES! Yeah I know what you mean. It’s like you can’t listen to it loud enough.” But I’ve yet to broach the topic with anyone who’s had something to add to the conversation past that, which I find odd.
With music my solution was to buy a keyboard, the introductory version of Ableton and start flailing around abortively.
My tentative plan is to pick a basic pop song, one that I’ve become marginally obsessed with, rip it apart and try to put it back together, track by track, as a learning exercise. Then, after struggling with tutorials and recreating whatever laughable facsimile, to move to another.
I haven’t yet gotten very far with that. But that’s fine. I didn’t really expect to rocket out of the gate.
But by that deconstruction/reconstruction practice I’ll at least learn SOMEthing about what these things really are and how they’re made.
When I started writing this I figured my next step in reading would just be to go to the next Stephenson books, the Baroque Cycle et al, hoping they scratched the itch. But now that I’m a few paragraphs in to this I realize that the right way to approach this is the same, clear off my whiteboard and maybe carve off a sub-wiki for myself and just start taking Diamond Age apart to see what makes it tick.
I’m not REAL sure how I’d do that. But I suppose that’s one of those things that I need to approach without the prejudice of thinking I know how it’s going to go, like any beginner pursuit.
That’s going to take a metric shitton of work. But I think if I have any intentions of writing seriously it’s the kind of thing I’m going to have to do. Hell, it may even be a blast.
Nineteen years later is a bit late for these. But seeing as how the original has been getting so much traction I thought I’d write this up and post it.
Unlike the other pieces in this series (the one before and the two or three after this one, forthcoming) I’m writing this almost 20 years later. My attitudes on just about everything in my life have changed remarkably so the tone is going to be an awful lot different than in the other pieces, which I’ve attempted to preserve in my recent edits. So give me some rope.
A couple weeks after 9/11 the company I’d been working with (Is it impolitic to say it was TradeWeb 19 years later?) rented out a hotel conference room in Jersey City and told us to come in for a meeting. There was no real telling what the hell this was about in detail.
I slung my bag over my shoulder and headed in.
It was…what you’d expect, a hotel conference room with a strangely patterned carpet, nondescript beige walls and those metal chairs with vinyl cushions that seems to exist only in hotels.
We were there, milling around for a while, sitting down in rough social clusters, “sup” nodding with people all over. It was a good scene. There were some tears and some absentees and everything in between.
At some length I learned that everyone, all 105 or so of us that were there that day, had made it out that morning, which was rather something. The more I trace back over the events of that morning the less likely that was seeming to my mind. I’d only made it out of the mall and gotten about a block and a half before WTC-2 came down. It hadn’t seemed likely that we’d all have gotten out.
But…there was another factoid making the rounds.
We were fundamentally a software company, connecting trading firms for bond execution. Our business was our software.
Every Friday we’d make tape backups and they would be hand carried to a safe deposit box (no, not in the building) by our CTO, Bob.
This had been going on for the better part of a year, a couple dozen programmers plugging away day in and day out, Bob taking the backups offsite to be safe.
Well 9/11 came and went and the disaster recovery space we were paying for spun up. That involves a bunch of leased hardware and office space. The couple vital code monkeys and infrastructure team got to work setting up a mirror of our old infrastructure, which I’d mentioned were on the 51st floor of WTC-1 with our offices, a strategy that seemed sensible enough at the time.
They put everything together and it came time to restore our source code, the building blocks for everything, from tape.
Yeah, about that.
One thing about backups is that there’s two parts to making sure you’re secure. The second part is to make sure the backups you’re taking actually work. “What’s to test? We copied everything off.”
Murphy has a sense of humor and he was really stretching it out that day.
The backups of the source code were bad. It was all gone.
The CEO was telling us this (which was at this point was redundant to the grapevine) at the front of the conference room and he was just…hangdog. “We have some 9 month old backups from the London office, so…I…don’t know what we’re going to do. This might be the end.”
If I was then who I am now I would have cackled like an absolute maniac.
I used to get to the office pretty early, 7:30ish. I lived close enough to the office that I’d sometimes walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to get there. It totaled 3 miles, one to the bridge, the bridge is about one, and it was one to the building. It was especially lovely when it was snowing and I have to confess that at least once I’d be walking across the bridge during the snow, get to the middle and just marvel at the cables going up equally in each direction and how I couldn’t see anything but snow and the bridge. I’d stop and admire it, looking over each side unable to see the river below or hear nearly anything. Then I’d start walking only to find myself back on the Brooklyn side, having gotten myself turned around one too many times.
But it’s rare that you can have a silent moment in NYC and 7:00 in the morning on the Brooklyn Bridge in the snow is about as quiet as it can get. After all, what kind of fool walks through the snow when he doesn’t have to, and that for the sheer spectacle of it all?
During one of my aborted attempts to get back in to the college mindset I was taking Calc 2 at Westchester Community College. I found it utterly intractable. (Interestingly 3 and 4 I found a breeze.) I was a night class and I hated the professor. In retrospect we probably hated each other. The night of the final exam there was a full lunar eclipse. I parked my car and walked towards the building when I noticed it JUST beginning. I sat on the low “smoking wall” just outside the door and watched it, low in the sky with that red cast the moon has when the air is humid (or you’re looking over Jersey) as people walked in.
“Hey, c’mon man. Final’s starting.”
“Yeah yeah, gimme a minute.”
Eventually nobody was going in anymore and the moon was occulting behind the earth.
The professor came out.
“Mr. Wilson, We’re starting.”
“Yeah I’m gonna sit here and watch this.”
“If you miss the final you’re going to fail.” I shrugged.
“Yeah, but in 10 years I’m going to remember this moment.”
He turned bright fucking red and went back in.
And I did. It was a little scary to sit there. But I sat there and watched the entirety of the lunar eclipse which lasted longer than the Calc final. I know this because an hour later people started coming out.
“Dude, you did that fast.” I just chuckled.
Well dude, it’s about 30 years later and still one of my fondest memories. So you can still go fuck yourself because I’m still smiling.
THAT’S the type of person who walks across the Brooklyn Bridge in the snow as a goof.
I also used to like to noodle around with the code I was working on at the office when at home. So, before everybody got in I’d copy the whole source tree to my 20g external drive. Strictly speaking this was a big fucking no no amounting to what would today be called “exfiltration of the entirety of the firm’s intellectual property for unsanctioned purposes.”
So while Jim was up there talking about how he’d built the company up from an idea and didn’t know what was going to happen next…
I was smiling. Just grinning ear to ear. I whispered to someone sitting next to me.
He was done with his speech and the stable of crisis counselors he’d hired for the occasion started attaching themselves to groups and going through it all with us. Frankly I don’t recall what they talked about. But none of it really made me feel any better.
Well, 20 minutes goes by and Jim comes over with tears in his eyes, grinning.
“Am I to understand that you had the presence of mind to take a copy of our code that morning?”
I glanced nervously at my bag, where sat the drive containing everything, thinking I should not give up the whole thing in that moment.
“Yep. I copied out the source to an external drive that morning at about 7:30. So…unless everybody was VERY productive between 7:30 and 8:56, we didn’t lose anything.”
He just laughed.
Eventually we started work again and I copied the source back to a server and they checked it all in to source control and we just started working from where we were on September 10.
Test your backups kids. Backups don’t exist if you haven’t done a test restore.
My bonus that year was about half my yearly salary.
I remember talking with this one counselor for hours. In fact I was the last one out of the place. I was really wishing I’d had the sand to get her number.
Several people quit, too afraid to have anything to do with lower Manhattan, even by Jersey proxy. Some people even moved cross country, taking the cue to just bail out of The Life, which seemed positively silly.
Okay. So it took me 15 years.
I’m finding that the importance of dating these files can not be overstated. Among all the damned word files, open office files, notebook transcriptions, text files and related effluvia from 35+ years of writing on computers have long lost their timestamps, leaving me to guess what epoch of life they belong to from contextual cues.
Sure I can do a reasonable job at that. But I’d like to put the timeline together a bit more cohesively than that. Maybe it doesn’t matter. But it would be nice to see.
It’s interesting that the primary complaint I have about blogging, that things disappear into the soup of time, actually holds the very answer to this problem.
So I could take a desktop plain text blogging platform and stuff textified writing into that and jam the date into the metadata.
I’ve re-downloaded blosxom and pulled pyblosxom to see if they fit the bill. They might not. But who cares. If they don’t I can always roll something that will as an HHC plug in. I suppose I could format the entries as RFC822 messages. Then I could just jam whatever metadata I needed into X- headers. Hell, that’d actually be a great way to support tag clouds and such. Yeah okay, I’ll plan on that.
But enough of that crap for now.
The reason that came up in my mind is that I’ve been going through some of this stuff and there’s more of it than I remember, and during the dig I came across a couple versions of my 9/11 account, which triggered me to send a link ( http://iwilson.net/15-years-really/ ) last week to http://twitter.com/cigargoyle_, who read it on his live stream last Wednesday night (9/9.) It’s gotten… a lot of feedback.
I vacillated back and forth on whether to watch. But figured if he was going to put himself out there by reading it, the very fucking least I could do would be to watch the damned thing.
Now, a mild confession about it: I haven’t really been able to read the thing in its entirety in years. So I knew I was in for a ride once someone who actually did voicing work got ahold of it.
I picked up and put down a bottle of bourbon a few times in the few minutes leading up to the live event, eventually settling on Monkey Shoulder instead.
It was fascinating and soul sucking to watch and listen to it. Interesting in the parts he chose to inflect and how, and how much it differed in places from the way I hear it in my head. Horrifying to listen to it unfolding in real time, knowing what’s coming, like a fucking truck with me sitting in the highway just drinking scotch waiting for it to hit me.
I got up and paced around the room yelling ‘FUCK’ now and again, as suits my character. It’s just a bleeder valve for stress that almost works.
It’s good and you should go watch it if you’re inclined: https://t.co/b7fsq7abX8?amp=1
BUT it highlighted to me how badly it’s written. I blasted that out in a couple/few hours in a single sitting back in ’03. (The “15 years really” post wasn’t the original. It was me reflecting and reposting it on the “new” blog since Radio Userland is LONG gone.)
I know I know “badly WRITTEN, DUDE!”
People point to it as my best piece of writing. But frankly that’s a function of exposure. It’s not and not only is it not the best, it’s not even in the top third. I see all the damned repetition, screwy phrasing, placeholders where I was going to expand it, etc.
Sure we’re all our own worst critics. But that’s the only way we get better at anything. You wouldn’t believe how I trash talk my sourdough baguettes.
So the question comes up about editing. It’s a 17 year old document. Is it something I should edit? I suppose the fact that I still cringe when I think about it implies an answer, but I’m not sure that wouldn’t be true of it in any state.
The right thing MIGHT just be to do a follow-up. As it sits, it ends on such a dour note. But…maybe that simply is what it is.
As I sit here, having been screwing around for an hour I’m thinking I should open a new document, turn on editing annotations in word (an excellent and remarkably underused feature) and just start hacking away at it, saving it under “911-0.2” and see what I can do with it, as an exercise in editing if nothing else.
Alright. Here we go…