Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11, Five Years On

In the weeks after 9/11 I wrote several essays about my own experiences, my perceptions, and where I felt this country was going. In the days before this blog I would email the writing to friends and family. With the anniversary on the horizon I looked for copies of the work but came up empty. What follows is as close as I can come to re-creating what I felt back then.

If you want to know what I remember most about 9/11, it's the night before.

On that warm September evening I went to see the Cardinals play at Miller Park. For a change I went just to be around family and friends. The game on the field was nothing more than background noise, even when Mark McGwire hit a monster home run to center.

Afterwards a friend and I took a leisurely walk through the neighboring VA grounds, then returned home to (of all things) help my pregnant wife bake a new cupcake recipe.

My last thoughts as I lay down to sleep that night where blissful, and I remember thanking God for such a wonderful life.

I woke up to 13 answering messages imploring me to turn on the TV.

By then both towers were in flames and any idea that it could be an accident had long since vanished. Within a minute my wife was in tears, but my reaction was less gallant. I could sympathize immediately with those on the planes but for a moment, still in shock and grasping for a way to explain this lunacy, I could muster little emotion for those in the towers.

This was short-lived. Once my mind surrendered to the fact that I couldn’t rationalize anything that was happening and I put myself in the place of those trapped 100 floors above the ground, it was nearly too much to bear.

(One thing I have never understood was Al Queda’s obsession with the WTC. If it hadn’t been for the ’93 bombing I might never have known of the towers’ existence. Most of my family and friends, many of whom have college under their belts, felt the same. In retrospect the attack certainly shook the nation to its core, but at the time why not target something more recognizable to people outside the coast, such as the Empire State Building?)

When word came of the hit on the Pentagon I was dumbstruck. This was more than terrorism; this was a declaration of war. This was our Pearl Harbor.

And then the first tower fell.

To those born after the fact – my children for example – it will be hard to fathom the surreal nature of what I saw. They’ll be barraged by the images and stories in the classroom and on TV until it seems . . . commonplace, something that was almost predestined.

It was not. It was a mockery of the way the world should be.

A skyscraper was collapsing in on itself on TV. If I’d written that in a story I’d have deleted it as far-fetched. Hell, I couldn’t imagine a way a construction company could disassemble such a monument. But there it was, a hundred-story building reduced to a rolling cloud of dust that chased New Yorkers down the street like a cheap sci-fi movie monster.

I don’t even remember the second tower falling anymore. I saw it happen, I just don’t think I was over the shock of the first by that time.

Sometime in the afternoon I stopped to pick up my paycheck from work. Payday was Monday, but in the days before kids I could sometimes afford to let it sit a bit.

I remember one of my bosses stopping to ask me some inane question about work while the rest of the staff was glued to the TV.

"We’re at war, " I said. "I don’t really feeling like talking about this now."

She was pissed at me, you could tell, and on that day I lost the last bit of respect for her.

I stopped at a gas station on the way home to buy a newspaper, a special edition about the attacks. I used to collect them, keeping copies from JFK’s assassination, the 2000 election, the Gulf War – but a few weeks later I threw this paper out. I didn’t want a reminder around.

Later I went out again to fill up on gas. Rumors were already flying about gas rationing and price gouging. It never panned out, but my God the fear on the street . . .

The rest of the day is bits and pieces. Watching Guiliani report the number of missing emergency workers (My God). The FBI towing a car from Logan airport, my wife’s fear for her mother, who worked at the Federal Building downtown, the firstpictures from the crash of United 93, missing person posters, my cousin calling to say that we were bombing Afghanistan (it was tribal warfare), a triage center near Ground Zero lying empty as they waited in vain for survivors.

And endless, endless pictures of the tragedy.

I can tell you what work was like. For days we had no customers. We just sat and watched TV. We watched thousands die over and over again and it was enough to drive you mad. Weeks later I spoke to some pilots who came in, men who knew people that had died in the towers and in the air.

Remember how I said it was surreal? I pray we never live through another week like that. Airline travel non-existent and people stranded across the nation. Fears of gas shortages, every TV and radio station preempted by news (is there anything more disturbing than a local hip-hop station playing CNN non-stop for days?), flags on every car, in every window, tears of pain and cries for revenge. Antharax in the mail. It was chaos and fear on a national scale, and it was terrifying.

I lived in an eight family apartment building at the time. My wife and I were the only non-Arab, non-Muslims in the building. For days my neighbors would not step foot outside their doors, fearful of retaliation. In the end we knocked and offered to buy them groceries. My wife embraced one of the women and told them not to be afraid, that we didn’t hold them responsible.

Still, I remember one frightening comment a friend made. We were at a gas station across from the Islamic Center when he angrily spoke of burning it down. He didn’t, of course, and neither did anyone else.

Then and now, I’m proud of our collective restraint in those dark days.

But I think we as a nation walked a thin line for a moment.

In my daughter's scrapbook (she was born in October of that year) I wrote the following:

What awful events, especially when we were bringing a baby into this world! Would we be safe, and more importanty would you? We pray for you everyday.

By the time you can read and understand this, the war will (hopefully) be over, and you'll know how it turned out. I hope you love your country just as much as we do, and I'm sorry you had to be born in such a troubled time.

Love Dad

Five years down the road, 9/11 has changed us all. And yet, our day in/day out lives remain so similar to what they were before; the same TV, work, school, shopping, movies, political infighting . . . at times, that’s almost as unnerving as the memories of that day.

But nothing will ever bring back the peace of that warm September night.

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Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Gurnee Mills

In early August, when we still had our rental car, we took the family down to Gurnee Mills, a huge mall about an hour away from Milwaukee in Illinois.

I don't really remember why we went, or if there was any purpose at all.

[Ah yes, I remember now: my wife had gone there a week before and saw an exhibition of live tigers. For $25 you could play with the cats, and we wanted to at least show the kids the beasts.]

Well Gurnee Mills is huge, 1.7 million square feet, and we parked on the wrong side of the mall. So after looking through a used bookstore and a few other shops, we settled in for lunch at the Rainforest Cafe.

This is a pic of the cafe mascot, which Parker just freaked over, giggling and smiling nonstop.

The wife and I had an appetizer platter that included calamari, and one of the few times I've been disapointed in YaYa was when she tried it, liked it, and then spit it out once I told her what it was. :(

For desert, we blew the diet and ordered a Volcano, a brownie/ice cream combo with a lit sparkler in the middle. That's ironic, because we despised the fact that the kids menu portion of hamburger was three, count 'em three, medium sized burgers. What the heck, why not just include angioplasty free with the meal?

Last but not least, this animated crocodile scared the heck out of Middle Child.

And with good reason, now that I look at the photo again :)

After that we stopped at a dollar store where we bought the girls ceramic ballerinas and Parker a toy hammer, the Disney Store and a few more places, discovered the tigers were a travelling exhibit and no longer there, and drove home.

Not a bad day at all.

Monday, September 4, 2006

Old World Wisconsin

Call this the weekend of Dan.

On Saturday I dragged the family down to Eagle, Wisconsin to watch a Civil War Encampment at Old World Wisconsin.

Old World, host of school trips galore, is a massive 576 acre museum that includes 65 buildings from the 1800's that have been moved to the site from locations across the state.

We got out there around noon, and you know what: we missed dang near all of the civil war stuff. The re-enactment was of Sherman's March to the Sea, and as part of the atmosphere the action moved from settlement to settlement as the 'raiders' foraged for food.

Well, when you have three kids (and a 16 year old cousin) with you, it's pretty hard to catch up with a roving band of Yankee marauders :)

It didn't help that two minutes into the trip we got sidetracked by a restroom stop and a tree frog YaYa found outside.

We then boarded a tram toward the German settlement, alleged locale of the next raid.

I've seen the whole place a half dozen times, but it still gets me going. The kids alternated between fascinated and bored, as expected, but for the most part kept their cool.

You can tell your kids are city folk when they go ga-ga over a few horses.

Love this fence.

And this garden

The kids got a chance to see chickens and oxen up close

Finally word came that the Yankees were coming. That was at 1:15.

Around 2 o'clock there was a small amount of gunfire - a smirmish at best - and some rebel cavalry fled the area.

That's it.


So we boarded a tram into the village, where there's 19th century shops (blacksmith, etc) and a Union encampment.

Unfortuantely, Old World was also hosting the North American Angry Hornet convention. The da** things swarmed the whole village and were bold enough to land on some of us.

So adios any desire to see the Civil War stuff, and on towards the restaruant back at the visitor center.

But . . .

On the walk back we passed the schoolhouse, and we stopped in just in time for an old fashioned square dance.

At first just the Mrs. and YaYa took part, but Middle Child quickly hollered 'me go dance too' and joined them.

As the 'shy' one, you wouldn't expect her to take center stage, but low and behold she was one of the first few 'women' to sashe (sp?) up the aisle

and bridge the rest of the group

All this was done to a host of genuine applause from everyone in the room. No one expected this allegedly shy little girl to take the reigns the way she did. I couldn't stop beaming!

Then it was YaYa and Mrs. turn

They had a blast!

On the way out I saw some children's toys laying outside, and we took it upon ourselves to play Sticks and Hoops.

Now we'd never played before, and it not only looked boring but hard too, but it turned out to be both simple and a blast. All you had to do was get the hoop rolling, then follow along and whack it from behind with the stick.

We even had a race across the meadow

Note: not all the pics loaded. Check back later for more hoopstick pics! It's worth your time! (UPDATE: they're all there now)

At the restaurant I dined on Buffalo meat. Yum.

As a P.S., on the way home YaYa so impressed a gas station clerk with her maturity that the Mrs. overheard her telling other folks about her (unaware she was YaYa's Mom).

Ha - wonder what she'd think of her on a bad day :)


Sunday, September 3, 2006

Layton Boulevard

You'll have to excuse me, as the next few posts will be all out of order chronologically.

Today the Mrs. and I took Middle Child and Parker (YaYa was overnight at a friend's house) on a walk down Layton Boulevard.

Layton Boulevard is the name of a southern strip of S. 27th Street aka US 41, a street that bisects the city and has the longest continuous strip of businesses in Milwaukee. Why the name change for a mile or so? Ask someone else, I don't know.

What I do know is that Layton Boulevard features some of the most amazing single-family houses in Milwaukee. A shame really, as they're located in a 'changing' neighborhood, or, if you are less charitable, an 'almost ghetto'.

I'd buy one in a heartbeat.

The basis of the walk was exercise, but I always wanted to photgraph the houses on that stretch. So bear with me as I post some of them here.

I love the arches on this next one. Note the window AC unit tho' - very few of these houses have central air.

I like the trim on this one.


I think this one is gorgeous. I have a fetish for dark green awnings, and I adore the brickwork.


These next few are of my dream house. It even features a pair of pineapples on the front steps - the logo of my employer.

Nearby are several houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, including one I've heard is the only creation of his to feature a garage - because he designed it for a buddy.