World Trade Center

For a New Yorker who was working in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, I don’t have a harrowing or even very interesting story. I was not near the Towers; I was not near death. I did not see the planes. My life was not saved by a delayed train or by bringing my child to school or by voting in the mayoral primary or by stopping for coffee or by a heroic act by a fellow New Yorker.

I was at my desk in Midtown when the planes hit. As word spread, I gathered with coworkers to watch, horrified, on the news as the Towers burned and then fell, as the Pentagon smoldered. With thousands of others, I walked to Queens over the 59th Street Bridge, and then I got a ride home from a coworker. It was a sad, even terrifying day for me, but not a particularly dangerous one.

Eight years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, I find myself still in awe of the brave passengers who crashed their plane in Pennsylvania. Still in awe of the firefighters who climbed the Towers to rescue my friends, relatives and neighbors despite the obvious dangers in doing so. Still in awe of the ordinary citizens who, simply by being employed in New York’s two tallest office buildings, became unwitting soldiers in our constant battle against hatred and destruction. Still in awe of the scores of volunteers who sifted through the rubble while I watched on TV from the safety and comfort of my home and my family.

The title of this post doesn’t refer to the traffic in New York, though that beast is certainly worthy of discussion. It’s about the traffic to this blog, which, I noticed, includes one particular reader today who got here by searching for the term “twin towers joke.”

I don’t know any jokes about the Twin Towers; I presume the reason my blog came up in the search results is that I used the phrase “Twin Towers” a few weeks ago when I wrote about the anniversary of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

I’m not one of those people who thinks you can’t laugh at serious events, and I do sometimes find a little morbid humor to be a helpful way of getting through tough times (and evading real emotion). Still “twin towers joke” seems an odd thing to be searching for, no?

Curious, I followed that reader’s lead and searched online for “twin towers joke.” All I can tell you is that the guy must have been sorely disappointed because, even if you think that joking about deadly terrorist attacks is funny, the few jokes I found online weren’t really funny. I did, however, notice that the Journal of Folklore Research (geez, there’s an academic journal for everything) published a study on WTC humor–specifically, WTC jokes e-mailed around among office workers in Hungary. The cruelest joke of all is that the study’s author probably got a HUGE government grant paid for, ultimately, by you and me.

twin-towers

As much as I like to keep this blog lighthearted, today is the anniversary of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

It’s amazing to think back on the reactions to the bombing and how drastically different they’d be today. For one thing, nobody even thought it was a bomb at first, let alone a bomb orchestrated by Islamic terrorists. The article I linked to above says, “Authorities thought a generator had malfunctioned and exploded.” They didn’t realize it was a malicious act until tests found traces of explosives in the crater. Nowadays, every time somebody sneezes real hard, the first thing we all wonder is whether it’s terrorism. In fact, “Authorities do not believe it was an act of terrorism” has become the required third paragraph for every news story about any sort of disaster/explosion/crash.

Also, speaking only for myself, the bombing upset me at the time but not to a great degree. Yes, it was sad that 6 people died, but I never thought of the bombing as an attack on me. And although I paid attention to the news as the investigation unfolded–the tracking down of the van that held the bomb, the driver going to get his rental deposit back, the arrests, the trial–I was hardly riveted. Like most Americans, I had no idea that the bombing was merely one small piece of a much, much bigger and more dangerous puzzle.

Eight and a half years later, the more “successful” attack on the World Trade Center woke me from that jaded emotional distance and made the tragedy much more real and personal to me. I find myself identifying and empathizing with victims of calamities in a way I never used to.

This past weekend I watched … well, I’m too embarassed to tell you the name of the movie I watched. The important thing is not my terrible taste in movies, it’s that this particular terrible movie was made about 12 or 15 years ago and, about 15 minutes in, there’s a shot of the main character on the observation deck on top of the towers. The Twin Towers were nowhere near are regal as the Empire State Building, but seeing them on my TV reminded me how much I miss them, and how much I miss the “good old days” when I could be jaded about deadly bombings.

Today my thoughts are with the six people who were killed on Feb. 26, 1993–John DiGiovanni, Robert Kirkpatrick, Stephen A. Knapp, William Macko, Wilfredo Mercado, and Monica Rodriguez Smith–as well as with the 2,975 who were unfortunate enough to join them eight and a half years later.

[FYI, the photograph was taken by Jerry Salamone on April 14, 2001.]


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