I distinctly remember where I was on 9-11. My Surviving on the Streets book had just been published the day before. And I would turn 45 on the day after. I considered my Street book one of the best things I had produced. So I felt I was on top of my game back then. And the Telegraph Street Calendar was a hit that year, too. Everything I touched worked. And I’d been doing daily kundalini yoga meditation for 7 years years. With no drugs or alcohol. So I was sharp as a tack, both physically and spiritually. It even seemed like I was finally resolving some of the demons that had bedeviled me all my life. And I was actually turning into the person that I had always wanted to be. So I really felt like I was on a roll. And I had every reason to believe things would just keep getting better and better. Of course I didn’t know at the time — one rarely does know at the time — that this would in fact be my peak. And it would pretty much be all downhill from this point onwards. And maybe not just for me. But for America, too.
They say that everyone will Remember Where They Were on the Date of 9-11. The day that will live forever in infamy (or at least until its replaced by subsequent even more infamous days).
“You’re kidding?” I said.
“No, I just saw it on TV.” She was almost gleeful. Something exciting had finally happened in our boring lives. “I think the CIA did it,” she said.
I walked across the street and looked in the window of Raleigh’s, a local sports bar. On the TV screen above the bar I could see the smoldering World Trade Center building. Then they switched the picture to the smoldering Pentagon building. It occurred to me that this was all happening live as I stood there.
Later that evening there was a big, candle-light peace demonstration on the campus. A young woman with a folk guitar kicked off the demonstration with a flat version of “Imagine” by John Lennon. (Oh no, I thought, my worst fear realized: this could launch another generation of folk singers!).
My friend Jake was in the back of the crowd, drunkenly raving to himself at the candle-lit demonstrators. “FUCKING PEACENIKS! WE SHOULD BOMB THE HELL OUTTA’ THEM FUCKING AYE-RABS FOR WHAT THEY DONE!” Jake was a long-time, long-haired, anti-cop, hippie radical type. It occurred to me that the battle-lines were being re-drawn. And that this would not be “another Vietnam.”
I took a seat on a park bench to the side of the peace demonstration. Today’s newspaper was sitting there on the bench. September 11, 2001. It was the early-morning edition, so there was nothing in the paper about the World Trade Center bombing. It was like seeing the last note from the old era, before we entered this new age, whatever it was.
The frontpage headline was about a guy in Sacramento who had went on a bloody rampage the day before. He had killed 5 or 6 people and then he held two other people hostage; forced one guy to hold a videocamera and videotape his mad spiel. Than he shot the person on camera and gave the videotape to the second person and told her to deliver the tape to the local Eye Witness News. “THIS SHOULD GET ME ON THE NEWS FOR AT LEAST THE NEXT TWO WEEKS!” he crowed, before blowing his own brains out. (His murderous rampage was inspired in part by the Columbine Killings and other high-profile media killers who he was jealous of).
THE DUMB FUCK, I thought. His story had been completely wiped off the front page by 9-11. The dumb fuck can’t even do THAT right.
I walked over to Hate Camp, Hate Man’s circle of street people. They were all sitting around a candle, quietly lost in thought.
“So, whats happening?” I said happily. “Anything much in the news today?”
“Hee-haw,” groaned Scooter.
I dreaded what I knew was coming next: Having to spend the next few weeks listening to everyone checking in with their very important opinions on world affairs (I made a mental note to remember the correct pronunciation of “Bin Laden” and “Al Qaeda.”)
I walked down the street. There was no wind, but it seemed like there was an unseen, swirling madness in the air. The weirdest thing of all was; each person I passed on the street, every person I could see in every direction, I realized we were all thinking about the exact same thing at the same time. It was a surreal, almost quasi-mystical feeling of unity amidst the shattering, fragmented alienation of the day’s events.
I realized that everything had changed just like that. Before 9-11 everything was really, really weird. And now, after 9-11, everything would be really, really weird.
It could have been worse: My birthday is on September 12, so I just missed it.