Monday, September 12, 2011

Remembering September 11th on the Williamsburg Bridge

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Friday night, we walked over the bridge to Williamsburg, grabbed a beer, and offered up our blood to the mosquitoes which drank as much as they could hold, and probably woke up hung over. I hope so. So many welts. Why the ear? And three bites on one arm is excessive. That bone on my ankle couldn’t have been the most tender spot. I hope you broke your schnoz.

On the way back, the sky was just turning that dark velvety blue. And the windows of the skyscrapers were just then appearing in shining yellow blocks. The river was a glassy black obsidian under us, and you could smell it over the exhaust of the trains that roared by now and then.

There was a Hispanic mom pushing a funny plastic car with a tiny boy slumped in it, and people of all races who had gotten a drink after work, and were staggering home with their backpacks and briefcases. A skirted Anglo woman peddled a wreck of a bike with an enormous basket on the handlebars that was full of potted flowers.

She was passed by all these thin, muscled guys going fast on their mountain bikes, and fat ones, too, driving themselves up and over, gasping less than you’d expect, though one was slumped against the railing, staring at his bike, re-considering the matter. And there were tons of dykes spinning efficiently on their beaters.

We saw joggers and skateboarders and rollerbladers including one beginner who crashed dramatically then picked herself up. On other days, I’ve seen the Hassidim getting a walk in after dinner -- powerwalking women with one or two strollers. And sweating couples blabbing as they go.

That’s the New York I like. The strivers and talkers. The self-propelled. Leaving messages for each other in the stickers and graffiti. Like the biologically correct heart at the Brooklyn end that pumps out a whole rainbowy flag from its broad red valves.

We are indestructible, and don’t need ceremonies to tell us so. What a mistake it was having that September 11th hoo-hah here in New York instead of D.C. or Dubuque. In the attacks we lost three thousand people, but not our soul. That was America, a little later, in a kind of post-bombing suicide, when her citizens jumped in lockstep behind Bush as he used the opportunity of the two flaming monstrosities to make war. And when too many were quoted smugly justifying torture at Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo. “Better get them before they get us.” And didn’t offer a peep -- and still don’t -- as ordinary freedoms swirl down the drain, along with the common sense and generosity Americans used to be known for.

In an article in Spain’s El País, Moisés Naím reminded us of the moment just after the attacks when everybody was asking, “Where are the moderate Muslims? Where are the leaders of this great religion that don’t share either the twisted logic, motives, or passion for homicide and suicide of Al Qaeda?”

Now, ten years later, with Al Qaeda on the ropes, Naím's new question is, “Where are the moderate leaders of America’s Republican party?” That too, he writes, has been hijacked by an extremist minority that has the power, for reasons and methods distinct from Al Qaeda, to destabilize the world. They sneer at fundamental economic principles and basic science about global climate change. And everything else for that matter. Screw Darwin. They have enough rage for everyone, but only compassion for themselves.

It’s as if they are guiding a fading senile nation, and while imagining we are off to Disney Land, and dragging the rest of the world with us to the grave. If you have to mourn something, it should be the decline of a nation that doesn’t know it is sick.

Is it reversible? Maybe. Depends on if the Tea Party is a symptom or the cause of a greater dementia. Every dog has his day, you know, and then his final injection.

If you have to remember something, quit extolling a day or two of heroism, and turn your attention to all those subsequent years we spent shooting ourselves in the collective foot. That’s the real tragedy. What I’ll mourn until I die.

Leave New York to the New Yorkers. This accumulation of islands renews itself daily. We’re more solvent than the rest of you, and have better debt ratings. If we have to walk home to stay within our budget we’ll do it. We’re not ashamed of Green. Not on the bridge anyway. And we don’t put up checkpoints. And we don’t check visas passing from the Lower East Side to Williamsburg and back. Everybody is welcome. (Except you assholes on scooters. And the ferocious mosquitoes.)

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