Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I remember.

No humor today. It will return tomorrow.

Early May, 2001:

The dot coms were collapsing at an exponential rate, and I found myself bounced out along with a quarter million others that year. Near-total industry meltdown. Everyone I knew, every contact I worked hard to make was gone along with me, my career and job title meant nothing, and the 50K in shares in three main companies were now worth exactly . . .dick. The day I got laid off, the company promoted my longtime colleague girlfriend, and that spelled the end of our casual relationship.

After 4 weeks of feeling sorry for myself, calling everyone I knew, and going on major bender, I decided that I could not just hang around the house, or I would be dead by Christmas. I had just recently managed a trade show staff of six for thirty tradeshows a year, had a 500k budget to oversee, as well as expert SEO knowledge. Worthless. The main jobs now available in my chosen industry were either as IT gurus or sales monkeys, neither of which I craved.

I decided to go, in honored tradition, to the career Limbo that many of us have chosen at one time or another: Restaurant work.

As a busboy, at 31 years old. . .

I took a job at a 5 star restaurant that I had been going to for much of my life. It felt safe, I would still eat well, and everyone there drank like a fish. Most of the core staff regarded me as an mutant, as I was the only male non-Moroccan busser they had, older than most by 5 years, and they didn't know what to make of me. I persevered, struggled with the breakneck pace, and worked my way up to the decent shifts.

Within a month, I lost 20 pounds, and was absolutely ripped for the first time since 25. Another month, another 20 pounds, and I made the jump to waiter. I am good at memorization and can be charming when the mood strikes me, so I was going to be decent at it. The cash you can make as a 5 star waiter is actually pretty good. I took between $150 and $350 in cash per shift, and if I hadn't been pissing half it away drinking after hours, I would have been making more than a mid-level dotcom exec. And I got to wait on famous people: Our mayor, our former mayor our Governor, 3 congressmen, every weatherman in Denver, Aerosmith, Al Gore, etc.

With fall fast approaching, I was having the most fun in five years. No faxes, no meetings, free food, toned and fit, and all the female companionship I would ever require with no messy relationships. Actually I felt a little like Tom Hank's character in "Big", I was having a great time, but I felt there was a life I was supposed to get back to.

Sunday, September 10:

I took a girl I was seeing out for dinner for her birthday, and we drank and partied until the wheels came off. I made it back home from her house around 4:30 am, and since I wasn't on until the night shift, I planned to sleep until 2:30 pm. . .

*Ring* ... *Ring*... *Ring*...*Ring*

6:58 am

No way was I answering that. It might be some fool who wanted me to cover his shift, and I was in no condition for that. Ice picks were stabbing my skull from every side.

I check the display: it was my roommates’ girlfriend. Reluctantly, I picked up.

"Hellllooooo?" I said in a groggy voice. I was severely hung over.

"Is Trent there?" she said. She sounded like she was crying.

"Mmmm . . .no. . .Sorry . . . he left for work" Lying thru my teeth, as I knew where he actually had spent his night.

"If you hear from him, please tell him to turn on the TV right away!" She sniffed some more, clearly sounding sad.

"What channel?" I sighed.

"Any fucking channel." She hung up.

That got my attention. She never cursed.

I woke up enough to shuffle down to the living room and switched on the TV.


Attacks in progress. Both towers were smoking, and I sat down with the rest of the world to try to get a grasp on what happened. They showed the second plane going into the tower over and over. I switched channels. She was right, it was one every network, and many of the cable channels. All were showing the exact same footage, over and over. I saw a man standing in a gash on an upper floor jump to his death, and I wondered why he couldn’t wait for the rescue crews to get to him. I imagined news crews everywhere in the US scrambling to get to the scene to capture all the lurid detail, as they had with Okalahoma City and Columbine.

I remembered that we had just executed Timmy McVeigh for being the rabid dog that he was last month, and I wondered if some of his militia cronies were behind this.

Like many others, I was shaken to my core. I had recently been part of a massive global economic expansion, and I foolishly had really believed that the world was never going to see another massive war again. That the major countries were becoming so interdependent on each other for trade, war could never be risked. And possibly, it was becoming clear to all that with massive technology breakthroughs, conventional war was not a winnable option. The best you could hope was to fight to a standstill. Did not Korea and Vietnam clearly show this?

When the towers collapsed, I cried. I was sad for the victims, and I was sad for America. Who hated us so much as to attack civilians?

And where were the Air Raid Sirens? It had been ingrained since birth to listen to for that irritating warble, to warn us of impending attack and violent weather, and I never head a peep from them. Wasn’t this exactly what we’ve been drilling for all these years?

Another call. The girl I saw last night called, and we talked about the scene playing out before us on TV. She wailed bitterly that this tragedy was going to ruin her birthday from now on. Being moody and hung over, I told her that she was a self-absorbed brat, and to pay attention to the big picture. Obviously, that is not what she wanted to hear, and so began the slow spiral of the end of our burgeoning relationship. Nice job, Sarcasm. I moved on, I had other things to worry about anyway and the premature death of that relationship allowed me to meet an intense smart-mouthed young woman who would eventually become my sweet wife.

As everyone did, I hurt. I always have a snappy comment or running joke that I can fire off at a moment’s notice, but it felt wrong. It felt right just to morn for awhile. I couldn’t be funny. Also, watching CNN headline news 24 hours a day for a week straight wasn’t healthy. If you don’t kill yourself within two weeks doing this, check your pulse, you must already be dead.

September 20th, 2001:

When regular programming finally returned on September 20th, the first show I watched was the Daily Show. Jon Stewart’s emotional opening seemed to speak to exactly how I was feeling and by the end of that, I felt cleansed. I turned off CNN, took a long shower and got my shit together. Thanks Jon. Then I began to send out resumes again. While restaurant life was fun for awhile, it was a job with no future, except certain alcoholism.

This national tragedy was a sign for me that I had to better myself as a person. I found new employment, lower that what I had become accustomed to in the heady dot com boom, but stable and low stress. I met my wife, and I reenrolled in school, partially to finish the degree I left so long ago, but mostly to try to gain more wisdom, more insight, and find a way that I might personally better the world in which I lived.

Time will tell.

I tell you all that to tell you this. I remember 911. I know how it personally changed me, and I don’t forget. I rail against the politicians and talking heads of all stripes seek to use that event for their own purposes, first to unite us as a nation, then to divide us into smaller and smaller squabbling groups. I remember a leader who squandered the collective goodwill of the world and the trust of a united nation when we might have needed it the most. I remember every promise made left unfulfilled. I remember the Red Cross using the money I sent them to specifically help the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 for shortfalls in their other programs. I remember the specific stepping stones set to lead us down the inevitable path to war with Iraq, and will most likely lead to further war with Iran. I remember that our nation's actions have subjected another nations citizens to unimaginable horrors in the name of my protection.

I feel that 9/11 was a very personal moment for each of us in America, unique and yet unifiing, and something that can not be assuaged by the vague platitudes of those who crave power.

I remember and will never forget, I do what I can to improve the world around me with insight and occasional humor.

What do you remember?



Jackie said...

"So many tangles in life are ultimately hopeless that we have no appropriate sword other than laughter."

-- Gordon William Allport

Beautiful post. I think your humor definitely changes the world for the better.

The thing I most remember about 911 was finding out 2 weeks later that I was pregnant with our first child. I did some serious questioning at the time of the state of the world that we would be bringing another life into.

meleah rebeccah said...

I will never forget where I was, who I was with and how it was The. Scariest. Day. EVER.

Thank you for this post.

Very Well Written.

OMYWORD! said...

Thanks so much for this post. I did a long post on my blog but here's what popped into my mind just now...

I remember silence. There were no planes flying anywhere in the country. I remember, once I got home from my business trip, standing in the Arizona desert and listening to the silence.

Julia Stonestreet Smith said...

i remember that morning...

i live in DENVER and for some reason i turned on the tv just in time to see the second plane hit.

the sky was so beautiful that day. BLUE BLUE BLUE so very quiet as all the planes were grounded

it changed my life too...i met a guy, we got married, i was tired of being alone. he's a waiter!

but he's leaving the biz now...no future

thanks for provoking A LOT

Oz said...

Being based in Australia, 9/11 happened at about 11pm for us. I was having some fun with my girlfriend (at the time) on the couch when we took a breather and thought I'd turn on the news.

I stared in disbelief when I saw the second plane disappear and it took the newsreaders 20mins to figure out there was a second strike. I didn't get much sleep that night.

Gripping television and utterly horrific - like watching a car accident and not being able to look away.

A certain amount of innocence was lost that day, and not just for all Americans.