♫ It’s not easy
Nothin’ to say ’cause it’s already said
It’s never easy
When I look on in your eyes
Then I find that I’ll do fine
When I look on in your eyes
Then I’ll do better ♫
— Heck, listen to the whole album and feel wistful to remorseful
We all know what today is. It’s a day so momentous, I’m deploying first person and contractions while eschewing sesquipedalianism. I’m even writing this a week beforehand to make sure I properly convey my meanings1 about what 20 years to the day of THAT DAY means to me.
I’ll leave it others, perhaps in the comments and surely elsewhere across the massed wasteland of the interwebs, print media and video content, to put pins in how al Qaeda operatives crashing planes into symbols of American exceptionalism2 changed everything for everyone everywhere. Looking back, all I know for sure is that remembering the day of 9/11 has changed the way I look at looking back.
Which is why The Connells’ Ring lyrically captures my thinking about thinking about 9/11. A quasi concept album about the very act of remembering, Ring opens with the love-at-first-sight romp “Slackjawed.” That rush of romance immediately yields to this the gem of a whiskyed-and-weepy summation of unrequitedness from the song “Carry My Picture”: “You never think to occupy my time / And you never require. / And you never lean too much, / And it’s always been this way. /It’s wearing thin.”
The bleakness of the album’s mood greys into malaise, ventures into bleakness and resolves into less-than-bitter resignation with “Tell me how much do I forgive? / ’Cause you laid one in on me, but I’m all right / Tell me how much—this goes on and on” from the closing track, “Running Mary.” With no answers, why keep asking? Because running your tongue over that sore inside your cheek feels so good when you stop.
BROKE: Observing that algia, the Greek work for “pain,” forms the root of nostalgia.
WOKE: Quoting the prologue to Wong Kar-wai’s 2046 in which Chow Mo-wan (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) intones from an unspecified future date, “All memories are traces of tears.”
A blogger called No Words, No Song posted an insightful analysis of the above video for “’74-’75.” The people shown are real. Those are their actual yearbook photos, and it is truly them on film two decades later. Here’s what happened in the studio:
[The director] told the subjects they’d start filming and the former students put on their “game faces”…the way they presented themselves to the world, not the uncertain, vulnerable, real person they’d been up to the point someone called “Action!”.
The contrast was amazing…
Much of the body language changed, but the eyes didn’t. Whoever they were and whatever they pretended to be, their eyes betrayed the highs and lows, the loves and the hurts, the experiences that ground them down and the experiences that built them up.
Which all finally brings us to the promised point of this header. Remember about me on that beautiful early fall day in 2001? And, great spirit of your choice, it was beautiful. Washington, DC, enjoys about eight perfect weather days each year. This was three of them rolled into one. Bear mentioned for how things shook out.
I worked in the only nonfederal building fronting the National Mall.[Hence, the header picture. My building sits between the State Department and the Viet Nam Memorial.[/footnote] It being just before 9 am on the second Tuesday of the month, the entire workforce of the midsized professional association had assembled for a regularly scheduled all-hands meeting. Someone turned on the TV to show smoke rising from a World Trade Center tower.
Standing so far in the back I was actually outside the room, I loudly asked no one in particular, “What? Did they spot a giant monkey?”
This is what I remember more than anything else from that day. Before the weirdly not-mad dash across the city to my apartment interrupted by a check-in at my gym. Not the inability to call family members to report my safety. Not the 11-plus hours of drinking with dozens of recent immigrants from all over Africa, Asia, and Central and South America.3 Not my profound relief at finally knowing all my friends were alive and uninjured, including the few who worked in the Pentagon.
I flash back to my badly timed, proved-cruel joke. My instinct toward irreverence did not do any measurable harm, but it definitely did not help. Regret overwhelms remembrances of fear, anger, camaraderie, relief, resolve, and so on and so forth. All the noble feelings flee in the mental face of me calling me an unfeeling cretin.
I doubt anyone else in that room remembers my remark. And yet, all I can fixate on is what a goddamn jackass I was, how I belittled and dismissed so much suffering simply because I refused to take a beat to even try to understand what was happening.
I wish I could say recognizing my wrongness in that moment made me a decent person in the end. The most I’ll allow is it’s made work at being less idiotically hurtful. Am I 20 years better now? Not a chance. Maybe nine, eleven tops.
Check back with me in mid-September 2041.