Saturday, September 10, 2011

What were you doing the morning of September 11th, 2001?

I was playing hooky from work in order to finish a home improvement project. Our 1970's tract house has really high ceilings in the living room and a big wooden beam runs across the apex from wall to wall. The original builders had stained it a deep chocolate brown (Padre Brown around here), which we thought was butt-ugly.  I decided to sand it down with a belt sander and then stain it a much lighter color.

We had to rent scaffolding because the beam was way too high for a ladder, even for the 14 foot collapsible aluminum one.  So I was up there on my scaffold like Leonardo in the Sistine Chapel except I was standing and not lying down. Layers of stain and wood dust were coming off quickly enough and I was protecting my eyes with a pair of safety goggles, the kind that fit like a diving mask. I also wore a dust mask over my mouth. Debris and filth rained down on me, but it was good enough to brush it off from time to time. The entire floor in the living room was covered in drop cloth to aid the clean up. It was hot and sweaty work but I'd been at it a day or two and had gotten the hang of it.

I was just getting started that morning when the phone rang and my wife (who was watching our two kids) interrupted me and said it was my mother. I put down the sander and climbed down the scaffold. I walked outside to brush myself off, taking the phone with me. My mother broke the news:

Mom:  Have you got your TV on?
Me:  No, why?
Mom:  It's terrible -- they're saying it's an attack. 

She explained about the towers and how the second had already been hit, obviating any chance that it was accidental. Now here's where my memory gets fuzzy because what I did next was to remove my safety goggles and then somehow a piece of debris got into my eye. A mild irritation turned into a feeling of going blind in one eye. I do recall seeing the towers burning on TV before they fell (through one eye). But then things got worse for me and I had to go to urgent care to remove what I thought was a splinter lodged somewhere in my eye. 

The urgent care clinic was fully staffed and saw me quickly. My wife watched the kids in the waiting room. The nurses were staring at their own TVs while checking me in. I think the towers must have been collapsing about then. A young Indian doctor saw me and told me that there was nothing residual in and around my eye but that I had scratched my cornea. He told me to give it a rest and that it would heal on its own after a few days. 

I went back home and caught up with the devastating news on the car radio and TV news. I really didn't dwell on the visual images recorded that day because it really hurt to look at anything. I tried to stay in the dark for a couple days. Plus I was still obsessed with the overhead beam and finishing it before the rental contract expired for the scaffolding.
There must be a lesson about specks, beams, eyes, vision and hypocrisy somewhere in this story, but I still can't see it. I do know that 9/11 was the beginning of something that has not even begun to end.


  1. I was the commander of the Orange County Regional Gang Enforcement Team and on my way in to work, driving on the freeway, my daughter called and told me that an airplane crashed into the WTC. I told her not to worry because it was engineered to sustain an impact from a 747 (but nobody factored in burning fuel).

    When I got in to work, I flipped on the TV in the office and watched the second airplane hit. I told my subordinates (Santa Ana PD Sergeant and a California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement Special Agent Supervisor) that we should anticipate instructions to stop hunting gang members and start hunting rag heads.

    There were about twenty people in the office grouped around the TV all day. Nobody got any substantive work done. The taxpayers were cheated - but I expect that the same scene was played out nationwide as the Pentagon was hit, a flight spiraled in somewhere in Pennsylvania and there were rumors of other flights headed here and there.

    Mohammad Atta had lived in Rancho Santa Margarita at one time so there was a flurry of activity there to see what turned up.

  2. I don't recall exactly when I heard that morning but I was in the office where I worked at the IRS and my cubicle neighbor said a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Towers. I thought small plane, accident and gave it not much further thought. When reality began to sink in - we didn't have a television in the office so I don't think I saw events unfold live, only heard them - having lived through the Oklahoma City bombing - I mean, I didn't survive the bombing but I was only blocks away - I knew the death toll would be staggering. We had 180 people die in the Murrah bombing, how many thousands would die in the Towers? As bad as it was, it was a miracle it wasn't any worse.

    I had to been in Dallas a day or two later and walking the streets, I looked into the empty blue skies and realized nothing, nothing would be the same.