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Unhappy Anniversaries

Crank Call


Published September 20, 2006 at 4:00 p.m.

Leave it to me to get to New York City just after the woefully patriotic celebration of the fifth anniversary of 9/11. I've always been a bit behind the news, which makes for better writing and more interesting stories. But it deprives me of the chance to be penned up by Homeland Security, with hundreds of others of my profession, in a specially guarded, yellow-taped corral near Ground Zero, watching the buffoon who currently occupies the White House lay a wreath and drop a tear, with his lovely wife Laura by his side.

Frankly, I like Laura Bush. Sure, she's a zombie, but she did stand up to Ding-Dong's mother when they were introduced. The First Monster, in her "traditional blue suit and trademark pearls," held out her claw and asked Laura, "And what do you do?" Laura reportedly answered, "I read and I smoke."

I like that in a woman. Especially the smoking part, since Laura's taste in reading, having begun with Dickens, Trollope, Tolstoy, Twain and Beaudelaire, was forced by national security to morph into something between the Smurfs and Judy Blume. I don't really think she knew what she was in for when she married a man who thinks fart jokes are funny, who has declared on the record that he and his father talk about "pussy" when they're alone together, and who knows no more about the job he's doing than I would if I were suddenly employed as a veterinarian.

OK, so it's this "job" thing that Mr. Bush is always on about. You know: "I've got a hard job." "My job is to protect Americans." "It's very, very hard." As if it had once been easy to be president of the United States, and as if "the job" concerned something other than the public trust. Here's my favorite Bush quote - long, but still my favorite.

"I clearly see the threats to America. My job is to worry about those threats. That's not your job. We got a lot of people in government worrying about those threats on your behalf, so you can go about your life. That's what we want. I knew after September the 11th, people would - they would tend to forget the nature of the enemy and forget the war, because it's natural. Who wants to live all your day worried about the next attack? That's my job, to worry about the attack."

Oh, lucky us! That such a thing could ever inhabit a house once occupied by Lincoln and Roosevelt is beyond comprehension, but there you are.

As it happens, I was living in New York the first time the terriers hit the World Trade Center, on a sunny day in March 1993. It was a freaky experience, believe me. It brought the whole city to a stop, which is hard to do in New York without nuking it. The only other time I remember that kind of thing happening - before 9/11, I mean - was about a year later, when Jackie Onassis, riddled with cancer, left her hospital to die at home. A kind of hush fell over the town - a sort of apprehension that the whole city observed without being instructed to do so. Huge crowds gathered daily outside Mrs. O's apartment on Fifth Avenue - waiting, thinking and respecting her, remembering her poise and dignity at the time of her first husband's assassination in Dallas in 1963.

That was the event that "changed everything," by the way, or so we were told. That was when "America lost its innocence." I remember it - the incredible shock when the teachers came running into our schoolrooms shouting, "The president has been shot! You must all go home immediately!" There was great confusion. I remember Laura Bates and Gracia Patterson, two wonderful teachers in Burlington, conferring with each other while trying to hold our hands at the same time. "One in the stomach and one in the head . . . Mrs. Kennedy may or may not have died, we don't know . . . Mrs. Connally is safe . . . her husband is badly wounded, but they think he's going to live."

Understand that this all took place at a time when people had "bomb shelters," packed with cans of tuna and soup. Indeed, you could tell what side of the tracks you were on merely by the existence of a bomb shelter in your house. I vividly remember the "Cuban Missile Crisis," before the Kennedy assassination, because Bobby Gillette came running up to us all on the Taft School playground, shouting hysterically, "World War III was declared at noon today!" We believed it. We were really scared.

I don't remember the number killed in New York on that day in 1993, when the "Twin Towers" were first hit. Not too many, I suppose, otherwise "the news" would have superseded itself trying to decide whether a lot of dead people were more important than Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan's knee. Or maybe that was the year after, it's so hard to tell. Luckily, O.J. Simpson came along and took our minds off it all before the big tragedy - just as Paris Hilton, Mel Gibson, Suri Cruise and whatever the hell Brangelina's babies are called do now.


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