Saturday, September 10, 2011

Who’s to blame?

February 1, 2002

A cold drizzle blankets the Hackensack River and even from the parking lot of Secaucus High School on one shore, I cannot see the other shore which is lost in the mists.
The weather fits my melancholy mood, and despite the hopeful joy at the office over the possible demise of our competition, the Jersey Journal, I still mourn my mother.
Her death happened a month ago, part of a series of escalating tragedies that has left me feeling wounded: the terrorists attack on Sept. 11, 2001, the death of my hero George Harrison, and then the death of my mother.
The last is a wound that has grown deeper and more painful with the passing of days, a throbbing inside of me I can’t rid myself of.
I keep tying her death to the other public events, the World Trade Center, the resignation of the Hudson County Executive, the death of one of the Beatles, and now, the possible closing of a 135 year old newspaper.
My mother like many people around the New York area witnesses the attack on the World Trade Center, looking down across the gap of trees and the swirling lanes of the Lincoln Tunnel helix to see the ball of flame from the second strike, the smoldering from both towers and the eventual collapse.
Mentally ill from what I was an infant; she could not make sense of the tragedy.
“I can’t help thinking that it’s somehow connected to me,” she told me a few weeks after the attack when I visited her at the nursing home.
She also blamed herself for the legal trouble my former boss Joe Barry is suffering – she really liked the man – and she seemed to think the FBI arrested him because he gave her a low cost apartment in one of his buildings before she moved here.
“I’m to blame, I’m sure I am,” she said.
If she found any connection to George Harrison, it was only to sympathize with me since she knew how much I cared for him, and how much I ached over his passing until her death a month later gave me someone even more significant to mourn over.
My mother hated the Jersey Journal from some event that happened when she still lived in Hoboken. She seemed to believe that the sales staff had deceived her at one point. When I told her that I had once applied for a job at the place, she said I was lucky nothing had come of it.
Nothing had. The paper never made me an offer.
But that’s no reason to want to see it vanish, and all the tragedies swirl around in my head, as if I am to blame, even for my mother’s death – me not calling her that New Years’ weekend, when she died, my out-of-alignment back no excuse. What about the World Trade Center? Or George Harrison?
I used to sit on the stone benches outside Boarders with my notebook, jotting down critical descriptions of the capitalists I saw coming out of the building each night, mocking them for their greed and the society that bred them, and now, I feel their loss as if we are all caught up in the same whirlpool of pain, me, missing their faces, their memory haunting me just the way the twin towers haunted my mother – the same question boiling up inside of me: am I somehow connected?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Jets don’t turn to butterflies in the sky

October 8. 2001

While Joni Mitchell might have once dreamed of jet planes turning into Butterflies in the sky, people in Afghanistan do not as a fleet of 40 bombers accompanied by God knows how many cruise missiles made their first blistering forte into terrorist and other strong holds.
Police cars here in Camp May prowl the water front in a show of force we’d not seen before, land sharks seeking to protect our shores from further, if not now nearly an impossible, attack now that President Bush has put the nation on its highest alert.
For nearly a month, many Americans waited for Washington to make a response, and the fact that the attack comes while we are here in Cape May is significant since we were also here during our first strip when Bush’s father decided to invade Iraq and the build up to the invasion more or less tainted my honeymoon with political flag waving.
This is one of the most conservative places on the state, a hawkish world of would-be patriots far enough for the problems of our urban home that they can afford to wave flags.
I wore my peace sign during our whole trip back in 1990, and people here clearly hated me for it, as if the one small metal object around my neck was capable of undoing the thousands of flags unfurled night and day to support Bush’s war.
This year, I brought no peace sign although my opinion of this Bush is no better than it was of the last, one war leading us into another, which will continue on from president to president until some president some day has the guts enough to say “no more.”
I simply put away the peace sign I put on after this Bush’s war-mongering speech last month because I could not in good conscience wear some a symbol of protest and still look any firefighter or police officer in the eye, knowing inside of me that the first time in my life I truly encountered honest, uncompromising heroism in the acts they performed in New York City on the day America was attacked.
I vowed to honor them by removing the peace signs I first posted, restricting my outrage against Bush to the absence of a flag on me, my home or my car.
Yet arriving here this time, I see far fewer flags than we saw during Gulf War our first year here – a strange thing considering that they have much more justification for flag waving now than they did back then.
Perhaps the sobering notion has finally settled into many of these people that we cannot fight wars from a distance, and that over the next few years, our sons and – yes our daughters – will put their lives at risk, real war, not the video game wars we have been subjected to as training exercises since Reagan took office.
Perhaps, too, the attack on the WTC made people aware of what real bombs can do to real people.
Over breakfast as George’s, I hear far less of the macho talk we heard back then, and it is pain, not patriotism I see on the faces I see along the walkway or in the mall. Many realize for the first time since the German U-Boats attacks in World War II, war has reached our shores, not sinking ships off the coast, but knocking down towers from the sky. And our troops head not to Iraq this time, but to the much more torturous and complicated mountain world of Afghanistan, which has a history of defying world powers.
Maybe people here finally get it, that war is more than just waving flags and jets don't turn to butterflies in the sky.

Mirror images

October 5, 2001

Until the city opened the walkways between Pier A and the Sinatra Park area, I hadn’t known about the second, larger memorial, one that was in many ways, much more touching than the one I clung to at the end of Pier A.
I heard about the opening of the walkway from the Hoboken reporter and when I went to the Pier A wall where I usually writer, I made a point of checking out the opened walk, looking forwards to the day when the whole water front from Fort Lee to Bayonne was open to the public.
Over my shoulder, the ghost of the World Trade Center towers hung – no smoke now, just a heaviness that only death brings. I had felt such weight as the scenes of some great historic battles like Gettysburg and Bull Run, as if those who had died there increased the mass with each passing day, becoming an emotional black hole into which other, living souls case their own spirits.
The piers of Hoboken were largely a faction, the Port authority, which was charged with maintaining them during the 1980s, had let them rot, an issue that remained undiscovered until after voters rejected the PA’s plan to build large buildings on them. While many of the PA workers died in the WTC disaster, their presents on Hoboken streets had the feeling of an occupying army, their pick up trucks roving the local streets oblivions to all local traffic ordinances.
In the city’s efforts to save the piers, it was forced to demolish some of the few remaining waterfront buildings once reserved to become a mall – now destined to mirror Battery Park City across the river with similar buildings.
As I walked north along the water, I watched the steam shovels and back hoes working from barges, removing the last debris from a dock that had already been reduced to water level – almost imitating another, more dreadful function already underway across the river at Ground Zero, the bones of the sacred past sacrificed to progress.
Then, I crossed over to the area commonly called Stevens Pier, which the city had plans to name Sinatra Park, and to the section where a ball field had been installed, surrounded by a walkway made up of paver stones, and where the walked turned and a long rail looked out over the Hudson towards the site of the World Trade Center, the large monument loomed, filled with flowers, candles and posters of the missing, although the real heart break for me were the slowly fading messages to lost loved ones written on many of the pavers in black markets, names and personal wishes never meant for me to read, scratched out in desperation and pain at a point in Hoboken from which the disaster had been most obvious, where apparently hundreds had gathered on Sept. 11 to watch and weep, and to which the survivors returned, weeping again, as work men on the sunken piers continued their precarious balancing act, unaware of the sad irony they presented, digging up Hoboken’s past here, as workers at Ground Zero dug up loved ones there, not merely dismantling an old doc, but a way of live, not seeking to recover bodies, but removing all signs of the working class world this place had once been.