Saturday, November 17, 2012

No. 565 – Schism

Performer: Tool
Songwriters: Danny Carey, Justin Chancellor, Maynard James Keenan, Adam Jones
Original Release: Lateralus
Year: 2001
Definitive Version: None

Remember that note about length yesterday? Well, today you’ve been doubly forewarned.

I’m not good at dealing with death or tragedy. When I hear that something bad has happened, and someone says, almost reflexively, “our thoughts and prayers go out to …,” it makes my molars rattle. To me, nothing sounds more canned and fake, and the last thing you want to hear when you’re in the tragedy and death vortex is fake sentiment … maybe. What do I know? Like I said, I’m not good at dealing with death or tragedy.

A lot of that has to do with working in the newspaper business for so long. You literally read about senseless death and tragedy every day, and you become immune to it. Black humor is another symptom. It’s not as though you don’t feel empathy for the people involved, it’s just that as long as you aren’t directly involved, you don’t feel anything. People die all the time; life goes on. The only way you’re affected is when the circumstances are so bizarre or spectacular.

Which brings me to 9/11. (Bet you didn’t see that one coming.)

Yeah, I know. I should save this for the appropriate day, but I’m not a big fan of commemorating death in a choreographed fashion on a particular day. Don’t get me wrong: I pay my respects to those who have gone before me as much as anyone; I just prefer to do it in private when the mood strikes.

Besides, this is the song that makes me think of that day. (My European readers, if any exist, are saying, what’s the big deal about November 9th anyway? A shout out to Eddie Izzard, there.) So now is the time to recount my 9/11 experience, which is neither dramatic nor all that compelling. It is what it is.

Anyway, as I think I mentioned, I flew back from my first Las Vegas jaunt the night of Sept. 10, 2001. Vegas was a blast, and I felt alive for the first time since my breakup with Debbie. Part of that was because I was running on pure adrenaline after staying up every night till 4 in the morning—7 a.m. Eastern time.

Given that and given that I didn’t have to be into work on Sept. 11 until 3, I decided I was going to sleep as long as I wanted—noon was the goal.

The phone downstairs rang at about, 9, I guess. I could hear the answering machine just well enough from my bedroom to tell whether it was a male or female calling but little else. I think I recognized Mom’s voice, and I immediately rolled over in bed and went back to sleep. What’s she doing calling me this early? She should know better. I’ll call her back later.

A short while later, the phone rang again. I didn’t hear who it was this time, but I got up and went to the bathroom … and back to bed. It was light out, and I was trying to get back to sleep, and the phone rang again. It was about 10 now.

Really? The one day I want to sleep in, really sleep in, and every solicitor in the world is calling me trying to sell me something or donate to their obviously worthy cause? I flopped around in bed for a while, but it was no use, and when my phone rang again, I got up quite irritated and went downstairs to see what the fuss was all about.

Six messages were on my answering machine, which was rare. (I already had cleared the messages from vacation. There might have been two.) In the 11 years that I had an answering machine to that point, if I had three at any one time, that was a lot.

I hit play, and the first one was Mom. “Are you watching TV? A plane flew into the World Trade Center. Talk to you later.” Huh. Well, Mom watched TV; that’s all she did, and sometimes she liked to talk about the big tragedy of the day. OK. Thanks for filling me in on the breaking news. Next message. It was Dad. “Are you watching this? Unbelievable.” Yeah, I heard already.

Third message. It was Mom again. “Will, did you get back from Las Vegas? Are you OK? A second plane has flown into the World Trade Center, and …”

Wait … WHAT?

I paused the answering machine and immediately grabbed the clicker. I’ll never forget it, as I’m sure no one else will when they first encountered the images from that day. The first thing I saw was the World Trade Center with smoke billowing out of one building and the other one … was … gone.

Oh. My. God. It’s GONE.

I sank down on the sofa and watched, as many did that day, in stunned silence for about an hour before I did anything else. Then I called Mom and Dad and assured them I was back in town.

I went back to the messages. One was from Laura and then the next two were from my fellow Business copy editors letting me know that everyone was going into work early that day; I didn’t need to—I was the third wheel that day—just come in ready to hit the ground running. Yeah, I guess so.

Watching the tragedy unfold—it turned out, I missed most of the drama except for the collapse of the second building—I was convinced that I was witnessing the beginning of World War III. It wasn’t, of course, but there was no doubt something major was happening, and I reached out to the only person I could think of at the time—Debbie.

She came over at lunch, and we watched TV together for a while before I had to start getting ready for work. It felt surreal to have her there, but what the heck were we watching on TV? Like the man says, the pieces fit.

I covered my workday that day already. When I got home, well after midnight, I turned the TV back on. To a certain extent, it was tragedy porn. Everything that was known at the time had been reported about 10,000 times already, but I couldn’t stop watching. Watching more, trying to know more, was the only way I could try to make sense of it all. Shut off the heart; turn on the brain. To do otherwise would be to curl up in a ball on the sofa.

I called Scott and we talked and talked as the talking heads repeated what the same unconfirmed reports and asked the same unanswerable questions for the 20,000th time that day. I was watching CNN, of course, and they kept showing the video of the second plane hitting the tower, over and over and over, and Scott and I began to analyze it like we were studying game film. “OK, now see how the plane tilted at the last second. That caused major devastation there …”

Like I said, I’m not very good at dealing with tragedy.

So we’re talking, and CNN is running business news from Europe, because, well, they had to try and move on from the same depressing footage, and I noticed something familiar about one of the broadcasters—a blond Brit who had a real cockney accent. Scott and I, as fans of David Letterman, always look for people who bear only a passing resemblance to a celebrity, and then say something like, over my left shoulder, Paul Newman.

So, when the Brit came on the screen again, I said in mid-sentence, “by the way, Roger Daltrey giving the business news.” Scott paused, clicked over to CNN and announced happily, “It IS Daltrey!” (It wasn’t really, of course, but Scott definitely saw what I saw.) At that instant, I thought maybe the world wasn’t about to come to and end after all. Maybe it would be OK. Humor saves the day.

It wasn’t OK, of course, not for a while anyway. Eventually, most everyone came out of their shell. One of the first things that happened in Columbus after 9/11 was a concert by Tool.

I desperately wanted to see Tool live after playing Lateralus nonstop all summer and hectored Doug to hook me up with tickets. He never got around to it, and after 9/11, it became an afterthought. Tool played 9/14, and it was one of the first cultural events that I remember going on anywhere.

They did this song, and Maynard introduced it with a speech about learning to communicate with others, even those with whom you don’t agree—the theme of the song, of course—and apparently it didn’t go over well. No one wanted to hear about peace, love and understanding; they just wanted to bomb the crap out of someone, somewhere, didn’t matter who.

It’s too bad more people didn’t heed Maynard’s warning that night. When you think about it, one could argue, plausibly, that everything wrong that’s happened to this country in the past 11 years happened as a result of 9/11. As a nation. we’ve never gotten over it and have become only more fearful, more distrustful, more pessimistic, more indignant, more vengeful.

Just look at the recent presidential election; need I say more? We’ve created a schism among ourselves, and only time will tell whether the ultimate tragedy of 9/11 was that the changes we’ve undergone are permanent and that we lost in one cataclysmic day a war we didn’t even know we were fighting.

So … who’s up for some Chutes and Ladders now?

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