News & Views: Jet City Woman

Friday, September 30, 2011


________

Whenever I'm alone I'm thinking,
there's a part missing from my life.
Wonder where I'd be without your love
holding me together now I'm
watching the time tick, tick away.
...
Jet City Woman.
Got to find my way home to her.
Jet City Woman.
I see her face everywhere I look!
Jet City Woman.
Just a thousand miles and I'll be there
Jet City Woman, to make the clouds go away.
Time for some blue sky!

--Queensryche, Jet City Woman (video below)

I'm flying again in the morning.  Not a terribly early start, but it will still put a slight dent in my Saturday.  :)

We're headed for Pristina, Kosovo.  This kind of flight is what we call an "out & in", which means I'll be home again tomorrow evening--unless we run into weather like we did on Wednesday.

But you know it's hard for me to complain.  I enjoy flying, and I know I'll miss it when this good deal finally ends.  The person who really gets left holding the bag when I have to leave--on the weekend especially--is my better half, Furnacegirl.  She's often on her own to take care of the kids and housework and a thousand little chores.  What with my writing and the daydreaming and the constant distractions, it's a wonder she puts up with me!

But she truly is one in a million, and even though it feeds a part of my soul to fly away over the horizon, or feeds another part of my soul to detach myself from reality for awhile to dream up a fictional world, I've found that there's always a part left behind, no matter how distant I am.

Needless to say, I couldn't go do my job (at least without losing my mind) if I didn't know there was someone I trusted implicitly keeping the home fires burning.  For every crazy writing idea she listens to, for every wild anecdote I have to share just this minute, for every raving lunatic scheme I conjure about our future, she's there with a smile and a steady hand on the wheel.  And I love her for it.

Furnacegirl, I love ya babe! You're my Jet City Woman!

Sorry.  :D  Got carried away.  How 'bout we say enough of the dime-store romanticity (yes it's a word!) and get down to business?  :D 

I had a relatively good week on the writing front.  After my long lay off, my unused writing muscles are starting to flex back into shape.  I banged out some #REN3 work, and I have a few flash fiction pieces to throw up next week and get your thoughts on.  And it's a bit of a race against time since we head for Paris on Friday, but I think I can get it all done.  :P

So, perhaps I should get off Blogger and go do some writing?  Waddaya think?  Well, here's some News & Views that have been piling up to keep you entertained in the meantime.  And a nice video to follow...

NEWS
VIEWS
CONTESTS, etc.

Finally, to ready you for the weekend, some groovy 80's Rock to usher in the good times!  Have a rockin' weekend!

Odds and Ends and Odds

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


This is a quick odds and ends post before I bolt out the door.  I'm up early today, flying off to Spain--and back!  I love my job, but ten plus hours in the cockpit can get somewhat tedious after awhile.  ;)

Although I've been getting up early for years due to the demands of Navy life, a 4:30 a.m. wakeup is still pretty painful.  I used to not be a morning person, but I'm working to change my ways.  And I'm pretty proud of myself: I'm up early to write some fiction.  :D

Anyhoo, I'm making progress on the writing front and happy with the results.  My main effort lately has been scribing out a little flash fiction, which I'm discovering comes with a whole different class of challenges.  You may recall I mentioned a contest hosted by Esquire Magazine where entries are stories told in exactly 78 words. 

Have you ever tried to tell a story in less than a hundred words?  It's pretty tough--but fun.  As a writing exercise, I decided to write ten of them, then choose the best.  I'm about halfway through, and enjoying it.  I may even share a few before all is said and done.

I've also started work on my idea for the upcoming Rule of Three Blogfest (link in the sidebar)!


If you haven't checked this one out yet, I highly recommend you get on over there and sign up if you're interested.  It promises to be a ton of fun, and the excitement is palpable as I consider how to structure my piece.  I'm learning I tend to enjoy challenges like that--not only for the fun factor, but because they help keep me focused on getting words on the page.  :D

Of course, NaNo is right around the corner.  (Has it been a year already?)  I am certainly planning to participate again this year.  Last year was a blast, crazy unbelievable finish and all, but I think I need to be somewhat more organized this year.  I'm planning to finally have a go at First Person Shooter (previously called First Man--detailed here) but I have some character development and plotting to do before the starting gun goes off.  You planning to play in NaNo this year?

Finally, we're heading off to visit Sweet Paree in a few weeks!  We're excited.  We've been before, but only for a day and a night, so this'll be our chance to see what's what in Paris.  Anyone got any travel tips for me?

That's it for now.  I have some News and Views piling up, and I'll get those out tomorrow. 

 

Now I'm off to dream up some fiction.  What are you dreaming up today?  Have a blast of a hump day, and don't forget to stay groovy!

Complex Machines


After nearly twenty years flying for the Navy, I'm pretty used to the reaction when people learn I'm a pilot.  The general flavor of the response varies from mild reverence to downright aww-shucks-I-jus'-met-a-rockstar astonishment. 

It's easy to understand why.  Airplanes and helicopters are complex machines, constructed of literally thousands of components designed to hold together, create lift, produce thrust, and, for some larger aircraft, convey several hundred thousand pounds of passengers, fuel, and cargo into the heavens--to travel thousands of miles and touchdown with nary a scratch at a distant airfield at the other end. 

I suppose people figure any guy or gal who knows how to safely operate that kind of equipment must have half a clue.

On the other hand, tell someone you're a writer or you want to be a writer--I don't have a lot of experience with this one yet, but I think I've got a reasonable sense of it--and you get a very different reaction.  Unless you're on the New York Times Best Seller List, or had your latest novel made into a blockbuster movie starring Matt Damon and Kate Beckinsale (or whoever the latest Hollywood A-listers are), you aren't likely to get much of a reaction at all.  Perhaps some mild interest, perhaps a few questions about who you write like, or a comment about the horrible novels the questioner was forced to read in high school or college. 

Don't get me wrong.  People LOVE writers; they're just not all that impressed when they meet one on the street.

I think this is wrong.  Here's why: take a look at these two pictures. 





Which one--an aircraft or typewriter--do you think is more difficult to operate?

By now, you've probably figured out what I'm gonna say.  The answer IMHO is that the typewriter is more difficult to operate--especially when writing fiction.

Before you decide I'm off my rocker, let me fill you in on my logic.  Sure, there are two million switches in that there cockpit, and what the hell are all those dials for?  I mean--just look at it!  It looks like something out of Star Wars or something.  That's what you're thinking, right?

Then there's the lowly typewriter--now grownup into a computer.  Forty-eight keys--give or take--and the durn thing don't even need electricity!  What could be simpler?

But I tell ya, I've been flying for nearly twenty years and writing fiction on and off for ten.  What I've learned in that time is that, when flying an airplane, all those gages and dials are telling me where to go.  The entire inside of an aircraft cockpit is designed to feed as much information to the pilot as possible, and pilots are generally talking to ground control on the radio to get directions on their next heading, altitude or frequency change.  As complex as it looks, in practice the whole process is pretty much paint by numbers.

But sit in front of a typewriter and figure out where to go next.  The typewriter gives you no information.  If you think the inside of an aircraft cockpit is intimidating, consider a blank page when you're writing fiction on deadline.  What's the next thing to happen in your story?  What does your MC do?  Geez, it ain't easy!  :D

That's why I think writers should get more respect.  And that's why I'm in this game.  Writing fiction is, hands down, the hardest thing I've ever done--and that's why I'm still trying to get on paper the stories I've been carrying around in my head all these years.

So what do you think about my little theory?  Met any really cool writers recently?  How do you measure the complexity of writing fiction against your day job?  :D

News & Views: Funky Monday

Monday, September 26, 2011

Boy, this weekend flew by!  And today too!  So much to do, so much to do.

How you doin'?  :D  Have you been writing?  I've been doing some--and happy with where I'm headed.  We'll see how long that lasts.  :D

So, without further adieu, your

NEWS & VIEWS

CONTESTS, CONFERENCES and FELLOWSHIPS
Have a fine writer's day!  :D

Ordinary World

Friday, September 23, 2011


Time has been flying by lately, as we hurtle toward a New Year with ever increasing abandon.  I can hardly believe it's almost October.  Much lies in our future; a move back to the United States; retirement for me after 20 summers in the Navy; a whole new life to start again.  It's thrilling and terrifying at the same time.

But time also flies, as they say, when we're having fun.  Though I've been missing from this forum as of late, much has happened in real life, and the last six months have gifted us a veritable cornucopia of memorable moments.  It's easy to be thankful, and I thank my luck stars every day.  :D

So, on this Friday afternoon, I'm feeling somewhat reflective.  I thought I'd share a few recent life events with ya'all, just for fun.  Consider this fair warning: I may wander into Facebook territory a time or two, but rest assured we'll return to our regularly scheduled programming soon enough.

The first thing I can report--and the biggie on this list, is we have a new member of the family.


Chip (his Blogosphere Codename) was born June 11th, 9 lbs, 10 ounces, healthy--and happy, as was Momma and sister Muffin.  He's a big laugher already; we've taken to calling him Gigglebox among other nicknames.


Sister Muffin is in love with her brother, and needless to say we are all thrilled.  I guess if I had to have an excuse for not blogging too much, this is a pretty good one.

Other news from around here: Etna's been acting up, which has made for a few photo opportunities.


Caught this pic on an early morning run one day.


This one was taken from our yard.  No reason to be nervous.  We're miles away, and on a hill to boot!

I took up running again, which I am finding energizing and refreshing.  It's been right hot here in Sicily through August, but I managed OK.  I went out for the 9/11 Commemorative 5k, which was a blast--and such great weather!


As part of the run, they handed out slips of paper with the name of a 9/11 survivor on it.  We safety-pinned them to our T-shirts and ran in their honor.


A great event all round. (you can find out more about Babita Guman here).

We also capitalized on the abundance of fresh produce and other products made from fresh ingredients available on the economy.  When it's hot, there's nothing better than sitting down to a cold dinner of fresh peaches, cucumbers, peppers, prosciutto, cheeses, bread from the bakery down the road (panneficio in Italian), the list goes on.  Mmm mmm, good!


Finally, you may recall way back when that one of my goals for 2011 was to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania.  Turns out it's not gonna happen in 2011.  BUT I will head off in January 2012 to do the deed.  As a result, I've been doing tons of hiking and other climbing-related fitness activities in preparation, including this recent climb to the summit of Etna.


Boy, was that a blast!  But enough about me.  What fun non-writing stuff have you been up to lately?  Please, do tell! 

I'll wrap it up now, but not before I play you into the weekend with a song that's sounding particularly apropos to me right now.  Have a way groovy weekend!

News & Views--Robots Writing News Stories

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dateline: September 22nd, 2011

I, for one, welcome our new typewriter-looking-robot overlords...:D

As I continue to consider the place of my blog in the world, I am arriving at a few conclusions.  The overall gameplan--both for my fiction production and for this blog--is still taking shape.  But one feature I think I'm going to add is a "News & Views" post, several times a week, posting significant fiction, publishing news--and contests!

I'm starting small, with a few links to get the ball rolling.  Eventually, I'll probably add a sidebar listing significant items--but more to follow on that.  Suggestions and comments are encouraged.  Enjoy!

*****
NEWS:
VIEWS:
CONTESTS:
  • Sixth International Aeon Award 2011 (Short Fiction.  Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror. Wordcount: any).  Submit by September 30th.
  • The Bland to Grand Flash Fiction Contest (Genre: any. Wordcount: ~500 max). Submit by September 30th.
  • Arthur Edelstein Prize for Short Fiction (Genre. any. Wordcount: 6000 max).  Submit by October 31st. 
  • 16th Annual Oklahoma Literary Arts Festival Flash Fiction Contest (Genre: topic-driven, see link.  Wordcount: 150-300).  Submit by November 3rd.
Have a groovy groovy day!

Stranger Than Fiction

Monday, September 19, 2011


Many moons ago, long before I'd turned to writing fiction seriously, my creative life was an assorted patchwork of endeavors: music, poetry, film, a little bit of everything.  I even dabbled in live theater for awhile.  For two years I volunteered with a local theater company in Corpus Christi, Texas. 

My jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none background made me a pretty good fit for the local drama company.  I helped fit costumes, played music from time to time, designed programs, did what I could on the production side (I was a stage manager in high school), lead the band for a rockin' production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, even acted in a couple productions.

During my time there, I had a lot of fun, and made many friends.  It was nice coming into the entry hall hours before a performance and hanging with the cast to chat things up, compare notes on the production, laugh at the lame jokes we all made, and wonder aloud whether that night's house would be full or empty.  It was a wonderful piece of living, frankly, and after awhile, those folks became like a family to me.

But all good things come to an end.  I was moving to Austin, so my days with the theater were numbered.  One of the last events I participated in before the move was the yearly awards ceremony, where we recognized the best performances for the year, the best director, the best production--all the various accolades that could be heaped on volunteers who weren't often gifted with professional-level talent, but more than made up for it with big, generous hearts and determined attitudes.

Speeches were given.  Songs were sung.  It was a great night, one to remember.

Fast forward a year.  I'd been away up at school but I got wind from a friend that the annual awards ceremony was coming up, and maybe I could make it down for a visit.  Why not? I thought.  What a great chance to see the old gang, catch up on all the news.  My girlfriend (now wife) and I drove down in great anticipation, dressed to the nines and thinking of all the great people we'd get to catch up with and with whom we could share some of our Austin adventures.

Now I know you've seen the scene dozens of times in movies and in books: MC is gone for a long time and returns home, only to discover it's all changed.  Nothing is as it was.  You'da thunk I'd have seen it coming, but I didn't.

We hardly knew a soul.  It seemed everywhere I looked, my gaze found the face of a stranger.  Where had all our old friends gone?  Who were these other people filling the audience seats and cheering?  I guess in the intervening year, some big corporate sponsor had been picked up, and the down-home, gee-whiz production values that had made the theater so beloved had been replaced by a slick, no-nonsense emcee in a tuxedo who kept smiling too much and doing his best Rock Hudson impression.

Many of the folks we knew had decided not to show up, perhaps because of these changes, or because they had, like us, moved on with their lives.  The actors and actresses who were there to accept awards seemed nice enough, but the whole event felt much more like a contest than a celebration.  Different winners were cheered by different factions of the audience, and some were even booed.  

What had they done with our theater?  MY theater?

I was in shock.  Really, it was so unexpected that we left mid-ceremony, stumbling out the front doors into the cool evening air like two refugees.  The vast parking lot felt like a maze; the flat edifice of the theater loomed over us in the darkness and looked unfamiliar and out of place.  We wandered around--me looking back over my shoulder again and again--until we found our car, climbed in and headed for the freeway.

Even now, thinking about it, I find the experience maddening, not only for the drastic changes that a year of rising suns had wrought on a group of people I thought I knew, but more so because I was naive enough to believe that they would all remain the same, together, as fun and creative and perfect as they still are in my memory.  Over the years, I've also come to wonder how much of it was real, and how much of it was simply an over-elaborate fiction in my head.

After a six-month hiatus from blogging, I wondered if, upon returning, I'd have the same experience I did with the theater.  Had people moved on?  Would people still remember me?

But I am pleasantly surprised.  Sure, a few things have changed.  I mean, of course they would, right?  But thankfully, much is the same.  Already, there are a few folks stopping in to say hello, and for every visit to one of the blogs I used to haunt, where I still find the prose crisp and the thoughts clear and inspiring, I smile a little bigger and mark it down as one more small victory.

Maybe what they say is true: you can never go home again.  But I'm not so sure.  Instead, I prefer Christian Morganstern's view: "Home is not where you live but where they understand you."

If that's true, I'm ready to pull up a chair next to the fire and stay awhile.

On an unrelated note, the video below--which I couldn't resist posting--is one of my favorite scenes from the movie Stranger Than Fiction.  It features Will Ferrell as the MC in a story being narrated by an author he can hear, who after a lifetime of not really living--or playing the guitar--finally starts to figure things out.  It's a real classic in my book.

Enjoy, and don't forget to stay groovy!

Something Quite Peculiar

Saturday, September 17, 2011


A quick lazy-Saturday post today.  A few household chores to do, but not much on my plate this afternoon, which is a nice change of pace.  :)

Here in Sicily, the puffy white clouds and hot North African winds are finally starting to yield to cooler temperatures, a welcome change from three-months of non-stop heat.  But the nights here are pretty nice year round.  Since we're out in the country, the sky is a true sight to behold.  You can see miles and miles of stars spread about above your head, like scattered flecks of diamond dust adrift on a velvet black sea. 

Even though it's cooling down during the day, it's still hot enough for a swim, so we may take the kids down to the pool later this afternoon.  If I get a spare few moments, I may even have a look at my recent writing notes and see what's what. Even during this last break, long as it was, I still couldn't keep from making a few notes-to-self now and again.

I don't know about you, but when it comes to capturing story ideas and snippets, I'm a compulsive pack rat.  I jot scraps of dialogue, scene or story concepts, interesting words, character descriptions--you name it--down on slips of paper, or more commonly I type them ad hoc into the nearest MS Word-equipped computer.  With the various computers I use on a regular basis between work and home, things can get a little untidy after awhile--mostly because my filing system leaves something to be desired.  Kindle is also a good tool for keeping notes, and I use it voraciously.

So the writing job in front of me over the next few days is to scrounge through my collection and begin to decide where I'm gonna pick up again--a task I'm looking forward to with great anticipation.  :D

I also wanted to pass the details of a contest I am planning to enter, and you may find of interest.
Esquire and Aspen Writers' Association Short Short Fiction Contest

Win a trip to New York to study with Colum McCann, and a scholarship to the Aspen Summer Words Fiction Workshop. If you can beat Colum McCann (in 78 words). Starting now.

Deadline for submissions is October 7th.

Read more: http://shar.es/HTHIY
To get you through the balance of the weekend, I leave you with one of my favorite songs from the eighties.  Re-watching it this morning, I chuckled to see what passed muster for a music video way back when.

Have a great weekend, and stay groovy!

Creep

Thursday, September 15, 2011


"I don't care if it hurts,
I wanna have control,
I wanna perfect body,
I wanna perfect soul..."

--Radiohead, "Creep" (video at the end)

SO HERE'S WHAT HAPPENED: I stepped away from my computer for a second--seriously like for the space of time between when an eye starts to blink and the blink ends, and--BOOM!!  Like six months blew by!  No really.  I swear that's how it happened.  Like some modern-day Rip Van Winkle, just waking from his nap.  I even had more wrinkles under my eyes and couldn't remember a thing.  When I looked in the mirror, I looked like this guy:


Froot Loops, action figures and all.  Yeah, it's a bit strange, isn't it?  Maybe I was hungover.  Or ruffied....

*sheepish grin*

Doesn't work for you?  Hmmm...OK....

WAIT!  So, OK, like six months ago I was going skateboarding in an abandoned mall parking lot in the middle of the night and this silver De Lorean--completely encrusted in electronic gewgaws and wires and all manner of piping--comes screaming out of nowhere and--WHISH!  The door opens and out pops this dude in a white lab coat talking all kinds of nonsense, something about going back in time and "1.21 jiggawatts" and stuff...and...and...


You're not buying that either, huh?  Something tells me you've heard this story somewhere before.

Well.

Hmm.

Maybe I can't 'excuse' my way out of this one.  But the trouble is the truth isn't near as exciting.  Nope.  Not even close.

 
OK.  Fine.  I suppose it's worth a try.  Here goes nothing!

HERE'S WHAT REALLY HAPPENED: I wanted to be a good blogger.  Yep.  That's it.  No.  Strike that.  I wanted to be a great blogger, a d**n fine blogger--the best blogger on the block, on the continent, on the planet even!!  I wanted to be the Michelangelo of Blogging, to have people marvel at my jokes, go on about my stories, share my witticisms the same way they might share gossip at a cocktail party.

I wanted a perfect blog.

There's only one problem with that idea, as this chart shows succinctly:

When you get right down to it, I'm a pretty competitive fella, see.  So you probably know where this story is going.

Every time I saw something cool that someone else was doing, I wanted to do it too.  I wanted more mentions and more followers and more accolades and more cool ideas and more pageviews and more comments than anybody else.  And that takes time and work and effort and most of all: more time.

So I kept writing posts and putting them up, writing posts and putting them up, wondering as I was going along Why in Fonzi's Name I couldn't find time to write, and somehow it never hit me.

And yeah--you know where this is going!--it got ugly.  Really.  Ugly.

Pretty soon I was swaggering around the house in a bathrobe, over-sized Lightning McQueen slippers--the ones with the flashy little lightning bolts on them!--wearing a beekeepers hat and two gallons of "Twilight: Breaking Dawn" Commemorative Cologne, packing an Old Milwaukee in one hand and swinging a riding crop in the other, screaming Alfred Lord Tennyson quotes at the top of my lungs like the lead singer of that now defunct Eighties band, Cinderella.

Wow!  I, uh, I, I really liked those guys!

Well, maybe I'm overstating this a little, but the bottom line is I lost track of things.  And with trying to top everyone else and myself, I got plain old BURNT OUT.  I didn't understand what was happening to me at the time, and it's even kinda hard for me to admit it now, but that's the truth.  And for my REAL writing life, a similar fate.

We have a term for this problem in the military: mission creep.  You start out thinking your mission is to do one thing, but slowly other tasks get added on, creep in, and then a few more and a few more, until what you've signed yourself up for is basically impossible.

If we run real fast, I think we could get airborne, EVEN with a full bomb load.

And like they say, difficult we do tomorrow.  Impossible may take a while.


But yeah, I'm back.  For now.  Not quite sure yet in what capacity.  I'm still getting my wits about me.  And it is quite clear I need to revisit my reason(s) for maintaining this blog, and how it serves my greater writing and creative needs, as well as what I owe to all of you.

So, I'm putting on my thinking cap.  Thinking.  Thinking.  Thinking.  Thinking...

In the meantime, enjoy this oh so awesome video from one of my favorite bands, Radiohead.  Oh yeah: stay groovy too!!  We'll be seeing you soon.


A View From The Roof

Sunday, September 11, 2011


It's impossible to believe it's been ten years.  A lifetime gone in the blink of an eye.  But, like everyone I know, the events of 9-11 remain real and tangible in my mind, as if that Tuesday morning and everything that followed happened only last week.

Also like you, I have my "where-I-was-when-it-happened story."  I've told it dozens of times over the years, when over a few beers or dinner the conversation turns to 9-11 and everyone feels the need to unburden themselves.  (Don't worry.  I won't be retelling it today.)  No matter how many times we tell and retell these tales, I think one thing is inevitable: the further we get from 9-11, the harder it will be to conjure the true feelings of that day.

Still, "never forget" is an idea we hear repeatedly, and one I believe in.  I think we must keep looking back, trying to wrap our head around what it all meant, if we are to remain ever vigilant and maintain the way of life and freedoms to which we have become accustomed.

In that buzz of community in the hours and days after 9-11, the phone calls, the emails, the countless online articles detailing survivors' stories and accounts honoring the sacrifices of all those who perished, the strange silence in the sky, the sudden shared understanding we all had of our own mortality, it's hard to pick out any one moment or idea as representative of the whole.

But for me, one thing stands out: the email below, forwarded two days after the attack, written by a friend of a friend, someone who was in New York City on 9-11.  Like all good writing, it captures those moments in a unique, visceral way, and transports the reader back to that day.  I've kept the text all these years, re-read it now and again.  It became my own little way of never forgetting--and on this 10-year anniversary of September 11th, it seemed an appropriate story to share with all of you.

Thanks Brad for letting me use it.

A View From The Roof
by Bradley Spinelli

September 11, 2001:

"The sky looked wrong this morning.  The washed out color of it, not baby blue enough, not shocking the way it has been all summer, but a washed out, faded denim look of a September sky, dirty and used up, like the bleach has taken out the last bit of life and its only blue out of sheer habit.  No relation to indigo whatsoever.  Impossible to believe that it turned this color.  How was it ever dark?  Where did this color seep in from?  Some navy blue terry cloth towel in the wash that suddenly decided to bleed?"

My next thought was, "someone¹s going to die today," but immediately after that I thought, "don¹t be so maudlin.  People die every day."  So I got up, even though it was only 6 or 6:30 in the morning, and I did some writing until about 8.  Then I did some yoga, and my roommate was running out to drive a friend of ours into the city on an errand.  He was planning on coming back and taking the subway in to work himself.  I hit the can and got in the shower; I was determined to get to work by 9 as I had a lot to do today. 

When I got out of the shower I said aloud, "the eternal question:  do I have time to shave?"  It was already 9.  Fuck it, I¹ll shave.  How silly it all seems now, how completely unrelated, how banal, how petty and useless and completely asinine.  So I shaved and was struggling into my clothes when my upstairs neighbor rang the bell and told me that a couple planes had hit the World Trade Center.  "Look out your window," she said, but I knew I couldn't see from my window.  She didn't know what was going on.  I kept asking, "what about the planes?  Where is the rest of the planes?"  I was imagining fuselage shrapnel all over downtown.  Then the phone rang:  My friend Martin in London, calling to ask if I was watching the TV.  I couldn't get a signal; the TV was all fuzz.  He was the one who answered my question:  "The planes are IN those buildings."  I went up to the roof and watched the twin towers of the World Trade Center, burning.  I was trying to imagine this as my new skyline for the next few months, those twin towers with twin holes, the reconstruction.

I went downstairs and Martin called again from London, feeding me more tidbits.  It seemed I could only use the phone when it rang.  I couldn¹t get a call out.  My cell phone had messages on it but all I could get was, "network busy, please try again."  I finally got a dial tone and called work but no one was picking up the phone.  I still thought I was going in.  I was trying to figure if I could get a car across the Queensboro bridge.  I figured a 4 5 uptown would be no dice if downtown was fucked.  I couldn't get a call through to my roommate.  Finally he came in the door.

"Man, I'm so glad to see you."
"Why?  What's up?"
I told him.  He had tried to drive across the Willliamsburg bridge but it was closed; he saw smoke but thought it was clouds.  He had no idea.  He had put our friend on a train to the city.  Before the day was over she would walk from 41st street down to the Williamsburg Bridge and walk across it.  Not across the pedestrian walkway; across the BRIDGE.

I got Dougie on the phone finally and held on while he tried to get his TV working, and his phone seemed somewhat stable as well.  My roommate, Robert, and I got in the car and drove over.  We were on North 10th street, heading under the BQE, avoiding people standing in the street and staring, when he saw it in his rear view mirror finally and hit the brakes and looked over his shoulder, swearing.  He was still rolling and almost hit a parked car when someone yelled at us.

We met Dougie at Phoebe's Café and got coffee, went back to his place and spent the next several hours watching the news.  By the time we sat down one of the towers had already collapsed.  As we watched in horror, the second one went down. 

No more World Trade Center.

No more World Trade Center.

The word on the tip of my mind was: permanence.  What a lie is that word.

We took turns making calls on Dougie's phone and answering his roommate's phone:  he was still MIA and family and friends were calling his cell, which he'd left at home.  He eventually walked home from FIT.  I was leaving the same message for all of my friends:  "Just call my house and leave a message, tell me you're cool."  That's all I wanted to hear:  that you're cool.  I had to call information to get my mother's number at work in Texas.  I knew she'd be worried.  The minute she got on the phone she broke wide open into tears, totally hysterical.  She said later that she'd kept it together until she heard my voice.  "You didn't go to Manhattan today?"  "No, mom, thank god I'm always late."  A lot of people are alive today because of being late.  I'll never think of punctuality in the same way.

Because someone was on time September 11.

September 11.

9-1-1.

There were two things I couldn't shake:  The first was the strange feeling I had had that morning that woke me up at such an ungodly hour.  Even the woman I was with that morning had asked, "What¹s wrong?"  "Nothing,"  I said.  "Just the sky doesn¹t look right."  The second was that I was currently trying to sell a book about a disaster in New York City.  I had done a ton of research as to what would happen if a sudden catastrophe hit the city and all of it was coming to pass.  I was bizarrely educated.  It was all happening, one thing after another:  all subway service in New York suspended; mobilization of all emergency services; FEMA is brought in; the national guard is brought in; everyone encouraged to stay at home. 

When we went out into Dougie¹s backyard to smoke we heard the fighter jets screaming overhead, the only air traffic in the sky.  Giuliani¹s words:  "secure New York City."  The meaning of that word:  "secure."  Military presence.  And the unprecedented:  all air traffic suspended in the entire country.  Canadian and Mexican borders closed.  New York State sealed off.  Dougie's original comment became meaningless, as did my response:  "Fuck this, I'm going back to Seattle."

"You think you¹re safe in Seattle?"

Because that¹s the true power of a symbolic statement like this one:  it doesn¹t matter where you are.  I live less than 2 miles from the World Trade Center.

I finally couldn't take the television anymore and wanted to go home to check messages.  We went back to my place and listened to the 15 messages on my machine, all friends wanting to know if I was all right or friends calling me back to say they were safely home.  Suz wasn¹t working downtown that day.  Tamsen finally called back to say she had caught a bus across town and walked from the FDR back to the Williamsburg Bridge and eventually home.  Dave Lozano and Sean O'Dea calling from Dallas to make sure I was alright.  A year ago, I was working at Wall Street and Broadway.  I called them back and felt the relief in their voice, the same relief in my voice upon hearing a friend calling from home.  When I had Sean on the phone I said, "So, I was on a plane a week ago.  American.  What about you?"  "Yeah," he said.  "About a week ago."

For those who travel as much as we do the shock of this will never wear off.  Hungover, sleep-deprived, handing over my boarding pass and getting on the plane and leaning against the window, getting comfortable for the takeoff that never fails to lure me right to sleep.  It's a routine for me, no stranger than getting on a subway car.  How can I ever do it again?  A highjacking doesn't mean demands and hostages anymore.  Those people were all dead the minute they left the ground.  How can I ever do it again?

I went back up to the roof and stared vacantly and the gaping, smoking hole that had been two majestic columns of human perseverance only hours before.  No more World Trade Center.  The horizontal column of smoke and dust was stretched along parallel to the Williamsburg bridge, billowing across Brooklyn Heights and beyond.  Downtown was nothing but a smoldering dust cloud.  Television showed scenes that were familiar to me:  Beirut.  Total carnage and devastation.  Absence of people in a part of town usually swarming with suits.  Debris and refuse everywhere.

My roommate talked to a friend of a friend that had been only blocks away when it happened; he spoke of flying, burning metal.  The girlfriend of a friend in the neighborhood walked home covered in pale dust; only one of many.

People kept comparing it to Pearl Harbor and Oklahoma City.  By comparison, Pearl Harbor was a drunk driving incident.  Oklahoma City, a fucking hangnail.  There is nothing to compare to this.  No one can underestimate how many people are dead today.  But like JFK's death in the generation before mine, or Pearl Harbor the generation before, no one will ever forget where they were today when they heard--or saw--the catastrophe.

I put a buster of Old Granddad in my coffee which seemed to help, although my head was crystal clear.  A friend from the neighborhood dropped by; we had gotten word that she'd been home alone watching the television all day.  I met her downstairs and she fell into my arms in tears.  Our friend that my roommate had tried to drive to the city finally made it back with blisters on her feet.  She described for us the bizarre silence, the eerie quiet that haunted the streets of Manhattan.  Hundreds of people walking home, and dead silence.  Quiet, concerned talking in a dozen languages.  No traffic.  No cars on the streets.  And no airplanes overhead save the screaming F-16s.  Just a distant whine of sirens that never seems to stop.

I finally got a call from Will, who lives at Delancey and Essex.  He had spent the night at his girlfriend's place in Brooklyn.  Imagine, I was telling him, using a commercial jet liner as a weapon.  "It's so clever," he said.  "That's what's unbelievable.  It's just so clever."  Absolute demonic genius.

And I finally got in touch with Jason, who was at work at 8 this morning before any of this started and was trying to reach me all day.  He was telling about the rampant fear among the rest of those we work with, and one mid-management idiot who wanted to know where I was and why this work wasn't going to get done today.  This is the only example of such cluelessness I've witnessed so far, and I hope it's the last.  I also hope I don¹t get canned when I call this guy out on it when I finally go back to work, but ultimately I don't care.  Jason and his girlfriend walked home and made plans to give blood.

Then I finally heard from Gabe, who, I had worried, might have been working downtown. Turns out he was SUPPOSED to work at the World Trade Center, but had blown it off to lie in bed with a girl and never heard about the travesty until after noon.  He called our friend Walter to work for him.  "So what about Walter?"  I was far from relieved.  Turns out Walter was running late to work himself--his cab couldn¹t get all the way to the WTC because the planes had already hit.  He was in the neighborhood that devastating hour and one of the people running for it when the first tower collapsed.  But he¹s fine.

Not that everyone is.  As many people as I know in this city, I'm just waiting.  Waiting to hear about who I know who's dead.  The entire city is galvanized, braced, walking around in a lost daze and wondering about friends and loved ones.  I don't have to talk about the fierce, savage force of these events.  If you've so much as walked near a television in the last 24 hours, you know.  But if you could have been standing on my roof, watching those towers burn, those towers that have dominated the skyline for my entire lifetime, that I have looked to as landmarks and objects of looming beauty in my years in New York--I wish you could have been there.  Because there¹s simply nothing like it.

All day, people kept saying, "It was like a movie."  But this is where I have to object.  Surreal, yes.  Unbelievable, yes.  But like a movie?  In a movie, the building is still there and a couple of CG guys get a paycheck.  But climb on my roof--no more World Trade Center.  This is not a movie.

Besides, if it were a movie it would have been the Chrysler Building.  It always gets it first.

People scattered again and I managed to pass out for about a half hour until my parents called me to touch base.  I could feel the fear in their voices; palpable.  Tangible.  The reach of this extends to anyone who knows anyone in New York, and anyone with the imagination to consider that their town could be next. 

As the night dragged on heavily, inundated by news coverage of the nightmare, we invited people over to eat.  By that time, most everyone was home and safe and still, but there seemed to be something simple in this gesture; just cooking, eating.  Keeping it up as best we could.

And this is where I find myself the day after, cooking breakfast for a few friends.  Perhaps it's the Italian in me; times of despair, eat.  But the underlying point, I think, is the helplessness that we all feel.  Countless friends of mine have gone to give blood and been turned away.  Giuliani--and bless him, he has been an absolute champ in all of this, our first view of him walking down a clutter-strewn street in the midst of carnage, himself horrified by the unbelievable sight of people jumping from the WTC, telling us to get "above canal," committed to rising above this, imploring us not to take out our anger on any specific racial or religious group--told us last night that he couldn't use any volunteers.  And all I wanted to do today was get downtown and pick through debris.  I may be untrained, but I have a strong back and I¹m used to heavy lifting.  Anything.  Let me do anything but sit here and wonder in shock, looking at everyone around me wide eyed and wondering.  Let me do anything.  But I live in Brooklyn and have been encouraged to stay at home, so I have to comply in any small way I can--can't become part of the problem by getting in the way.

So here we are, cooking.  Calling people.  Making everyone we know aware that we¹re here if they need anything, if they want to eat.  Slicing vegetables.  Heating up cast iron skillets. It¹s something to focus that energy on.  God knows I can't possibly smoke any more cigarettes.

My humble thanks to everyone that raised a glass to us yesterday, who placed a call to a friend or loved one.  My deepest gratitude to all members of the NYPD, the NYFD, FEMA, all emergency personnel, the New York government and everyone who found themselves in the belly of the beast and stuck their hand out to someone in need.  And my deepest, darkest regrets to everyone who lost someone yesterday, to all those friends and families of innocent people who happened to be travelling yesterday, who happened to have a stupid day gig at the World Trade Center, to all those brave souls who gave their lives trying to save another.

To my friends:  I¹m fine.  How are you?

Pity none of us will ever be the same again.

Pray to what gods there may be.

So, on this of all days, please call a friend or loved one.  Give blood.  Thank a servicemember for his or her service.  Have dessert with dinner.  Give your wife, husband or significant other a hug and tell them you love them.  Take stock.  Reflect.  Remember.  Do something to honor all the sacrifices made ten years ago today, and to remind yourself to be thankful we're still here.

Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own

Friday, September 9, 2011

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