September Third, Two Thousand and Nine

For years whenever anyone asked me when my son Henry was born I’d start to say September instead of August 25, 2001. Sunday he had his eighth birthday party at his mother’s house, and I stayed here. Most of his mother’s friends don’t care for me much. The feeling is mutual. Tonight coming home from work I started stitching what I’m about to write together in my mind and suddenly got very afraid. I thought for a moment that I was about to go get drunk, which might very likely be death for somebody like me. I was sure I was going to change direction of the truck, that I’d drive the same route I always did back then, that I would stand by the register and stare at the bottle in my hand without really knowing I where I was. I think it has to do with the weather finally changing and perhaps that Henry’s mom and I are no longer together. I sat on the porch of my little house and called a friend and told him all this. He listened and after a while I felt better, which is exactly how these things should go. When we decided we were done he told me I should go in and write all this down.

I worked on through that whole day. Most everybody else on the job had stopped and listened to each of the radios on the different floors or cried. The asshole Turks I was framing a bathroom for wouldn’t let me quit. They had tile to run. I found it made me feel better to keep going anyway. The laborers cussed me when I asked them to move so that I could use the table saw, a natural gathering spot on any job. They seemed to think I was calloused or hard-hearted and it was because I was from Tennessee. It just now occurred to me that maybe they were right.

That afternoon, when it was determined safe to walk across the bridges, most of the job, the other carpenters and trades-people, wandered home to Brooklyn or Queens. Me and the two left to close everything up had it different as we lived in Jersey. Anthony, the boss, was big and red-haired, red faced and lived in Hoboken. Duane was in charge of demolition and waste, was a little shorter and darker, and lived in Secaucus or maybe somewhere west of that I think. They squared off on each other frequently. It always reminded me of two walruses going at it on a beach.

Whenever we went out to the bar afterwards Anthony would have a Bud tall boy in each hand at all times, the waitress would come up with four for him whenever we sat down. On the job we liked to yell at each other, I once told him I was doing him a favor by giving him such an easy target, and he never missed an occasion to oblige me. Duane was a single dad, dark haired with deep sunken yet kind eyes that always seemed to have bags under them. One of the black laborers told him once he was the most Uncle Fester looking motherfucker he had ever seen. I tended to agree.

We locked the job up at four I think, humped it across the park through the smoke to the A-train. There was smoke forming a mist around the trees of central park that day. There were no flower children loitering at Yoko’s “Imagine” monument to barge through. Our thinking was to get downtown to the Path train. We had no idea that two of the stations had been destroyed. It didn’t matter, we were underground fifteen minutes before Anthony vetoed the idea. People were running wild through the stations, on the trains, everything was panic and Oh Fuck and Anthony had no intention of being underground. He had a funny look on his face that I couldn’t figure out. It wouldn't occur to me until later that the big man was very afraid.

In the years since I have always wondered why people have reacted so strongly from that day. Later we would go to war because of a something that happened one day in New York City and this has always seemed really strange to me. I guess what I mean is that I was there and never wanted to kill anybody because of it. Most of the time I just thought it was very strange and sad and mostly just very interesting. I only remember ever crying about it twice. The first time was a few months afterward, I had quit Anthony to stay home with Henry. Part of our routine was to watch Sesame Street. One day in the winter there was a skit where Elmo got very scared because of some smoke and noise that was never identified. I suppose in this case it was a nameless fear. A New York City fireman came on screen and hugged him, told him it was okay to be scared, Elmo, and that everything would be alright. I remember little red furry Elmo hugged the fireman tight. I held Henry in my lap and cried into his fine blonde hair.

It was the fireman that did it. I still get upset when I think about the firemen. I have had a lot of trouble with cops in different times in my life, but I never had a problem with any fireman I ever encountered, drunk or otherwise. They seem to me to be a different animal entirely.

Anthony, Duane and me ran into two firemen on the deck of the cruise boat that carried us across to Weehawken. They came in and collapsed on the painted metal floor, shedding boots and letting their helmets roll away. Some people applauded weakly, others asked questions, they just stared at us and said nothing. It didn’t occur to me until much later they were probably the only ones from their station who lived. Other men that for years they worked with, ate and fought with, got drunk with were dead. There was a bar I frequented in Jersey City a few blocks from our house where a couple of weeks later I saw three firemen in dress uniforms. One was between his partner on a stool and the third who was older and may have been a captain. The captain was clearly upset, swaggering and poking the other two in the chest. Everybody else was trying hard not to pay attention to what seemed about to develop into a fight. I think later I saw the old man leaning against the bar and weeping openly, he must have been sixty at least.

I got drunk in this bar Sept. 10th while my wife and kid slept back home. She’d start nursing and pass out with him and I’d head out to roam. The thing I liked about this place was the Sinatra on the jukebox, so that night I loaded it up and sat at the bar listening. I think it was the first time I’d ever heard “Summer Wind.” The tattooed brunette tending bar must have thought it was cute because she serenaded me, singing along with a couple of the songs. There was another man with a mustache further down the line who was putting the blast on her and didn’t seem to like me much so I got the fuck out early. By “early” I mean I didn’t close the place.

I won’t tell you what we saw on the boat ride across the Hudson, you’ve seen it already. We unloaded at Weehawken and everyone, thousands of high end refugees really, started walking south towards Hoboken where we had been told there were buses waiting to take us home. I noticed that even wearing boots, the three of us walked faster than the others. We were construction workers living and working around Manhattan and we were very good at walking. I remember being comforted by walking with them. Hundreds of buses lined the streets of Hoboken and the three of us walked the length of that town. Anthony broke off about halfway to head home. A couple of weeks later I showed up having laid out drunk for two days and told him I had come for my tools. He looked at me and didn’t say a word. He mailed me my check. I haven’t seen the man since.

Duane and me trudged the rest of Hoboken together. I heard that not soon after I left he was let go to cut costs and that not long after that he got into a bad time with a prostitute on rt. 1 & 9. The smoke in Hoboken was thicker than in the city and the fumes from streets filled with idling buses finally got my hangover to officially kick in. I told Duane about how I’d had “Summer Wind” playing as background music in my head all day. He laughed and began singing the song, each line perfectly. We got through the crowd easily, after hours of walking together we had finally hit a stride together. We were marching, really. There was the giant blue sky of the day broken intermittently by smoke and there was the roar of diesel noise and Hoboken and Duane singing Summer Wind to me; some punk kid from Tennessee who had no business being there.

The only other incident I remember having to cry because of some assholes who decided to fly planes into tall buildings was coming across the Manhattan bridge one night after carrying my sister-in-law home to Park Slope. She would come over most nights to hang out with the baby, and around eleven or so and in various states of sobriety I’d be asked to drive her back home. I never hated the terrorists for invoking a War of Terror, I hated them for causing enough terror that it fucked the roads up. Shit got closed for what seemed no fucking reason whatsoever. One day coming back from the pediatrician’s office, Henry got stuck howling in his car seat for four hours because the Holland Tunnel was handling too much traffic and we were too afraid to take him out of it because of the cops everywhere. My sister-in-law and I spent a lot of time in the Saturn together on the nights I drove her home. I can’t remember what we talked about, probably everything. I haven't spoken to my sister-in-law since I moved out last summer.

This particular night the Brooklyn Bridge was only operating east-bound into Brooklyn so after I dropped her off I was diverted back across the Manhattan Bridge in order to get back into the city and eventually home. The Manhattan Bridge back then was still under renovation and I guess has always been the ugly, cross-eyed cousin of the Brooklyn Bridge. I got stuck on it, moving slower than shit, and staring at trash and old faded plywood encasing the little bit of wrought iron and Neo-Classical elements that were left up by the arch. Off to the left t seemed as though the entirety of Downtown was illuminated from the work lights that were set up down by Ground Zero. Downtown glowed with lights that were set up to look for people that weren’t there anymore. The DJ on WFMU that night was playing a super slowed down cover of the B-52’s Song for a Future Generation. If you’ve heard it, you’ve probably laughed, it’s a ridiculously chirpy pop song. I’ve always loved it. The lyrics go a little like this:

Wanna be the ruler of the galaxy
Wanna be the king of the universe
Let`s meet and have a baby now

In between each stanza, the different members give spoken-word tidbits of information about themselves. For example Ricky, the original guitarist, was a Pisces and “loved computers and hot tamales.“ Ricky also died from AIDS back in 1985 when people still had no idea what the disease was.

The version I heard that night had slowed the tempo to that of a blues song. The dip-shit ironic hipster that sang it reflected this. Stuck on the bridge it felt as though I was listening to a lament. What reduced me to tears, smoking Winstons in my little Saturn station wagon, was the feeling that whatever was left of innocence had recently been or was about to be brutally murdered by pig-face, ignorant men. Wanna be the first lady of infinity. Wanna be the nicest guy on earth. Let's meet and have a baby now.