Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years Later

I remember bits and pieces of the summer of 2001 before everything changed. I had an unpaid, uncredited internship at Travel Agent Magazine. I went to Wizard World in Chicago, staying at Hotel Sofitel for $99 and having Kenny Baker – the guy in the R2D2 unit in the original Star Wars movies – ask me about my breakfast. I went to Wrigley Field, a must-see destination for any true baseball fan. I watched the Staten Island Yankees many times in their new ballpark.

On September 9, I went into the city to the Sanrio (Hello Kitty) store, because Melissa Howard was doing a promotion there. Before you think I was stalker fanboy, we had been e-mailing each other off and on at the time. She was the second reality star I met after Judd Winick...and nine months later, I started my ritual visits to TARCon.

On September 10, I attended the first class of my final semester at New York University. I forget the title of the course. The teacher was Gary Belsky, who was an editor of ESPN: The Magazine at that time. I met familiar faces, swapped summer stories, the usual thing.

I had a plan for the following day. I wanted to get to NYU early, because I had to try and get some of my sketches scanned at the computer lab. My class for Tuesdays was Sports Journalism, taught by writer/editor Dr. William Serrin. I had taken Jounrnalistic History under him the previous year, and he was a fun guy to listen to. Heck, he even wore a New York Knights jacket, modelled after the fictional team from The National. Tuesday was going to be a good day.

I woke up to the sound of my clock radio, which was tuned to “Imus In The Morning” in those days. I heard Don Imus say something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I tried watching on the television in my room, but I wasn’t getting a signal. I had better luck with the cable, and I saw the unthinkable happen. Yeah, the Twin Towers had been bombed back in 1993, but we didn’t see this coming. I think we were used to bad stuff happening elsewhere...and we had stuff like the Oklahoma City bombing and the massacre at Columbine to deal with. But this was different.

I tried calling my the time, both buildings were still up. She worked on 32nd St., but the express bus she took went by that area. I remember calling the journalism department, telling that I might not be coming to school. I get back to the television, and one of the Towers was gone. Then the other one joined it.

I lost it. I really, really lost it. My grandmother called from Yonkers, telling me not to go to the city. You think? My grandfather called from Brooklyn, and he had to calm my blubbering down. I was all alone except for the family dog. Eventually, I found that my mother was on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at the time of the attack. She saw the planes hit the Towers from the express bus. She had seen death when my father passed on five years earlier, and she didn’t need to see that. Mom ended up in Brooklyn, and she managed to call me. She was okay...a wreck like me, but okay nonetheless.

I was lucky...I didn’t get killed, and I didn’t personally know anybody who died that day. I made a frantic phone call to my buddy Joe, and since I didn’t have online access at home, he had to relay my safety to our mutual friends. I was scared, but life had to go on. I vaguely remember going to a Bed, Bath & Beyond with Mom on Wednesday, which was painful enough without the lingering thoughts of “God, what happens now?” Of course, the new Barnes & Noble was closed down, and comic book delivery was bumped back a day. I got relief the following day with two books from my favorite writers: Judd Winick (The Adventures of Barry Ween v3 #4 and Christopher Priest (Black Panther #36). Hey, we needed comfort at the time.

I can’t say that life went back to normal by the time I was done with classes. As luck would have it, I had signed up to intern at the Villager, and they had an office near Canal Street, where non-residential vehicles were not allowed. One of the first stories I wrote had me interviewing reporters camped out along the West Side Highway. I did stories on cell phone service after 9/11, how Chinatown businesses struggled after 9/11, and other stuff I can’t recall. One story I wrote for class ended up in the Villager months after my internship was completed. In the aftermath of 9/11, several comic book companies scrambled to create stories for special tribute editions. I even got to interview Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada for the story, as I called him from one of the classrooms, frantically scrambling to write down his responses.

I wish I could say that 9/11 affected me for the better. I’m still the same person, just trying to live the best that I can. There are times where I felt guilty taking air meant for other people, but that thought went away. But anytime I see ads for movies about the events, I think “Too soon, too soon.” I don’t care how beautiful the films could be, I just can’t bear to remember what happened. I can imagine being on a plane like that, but I shouldn’t. Anytime I get on a plane, I wonder if this might be the last time. It’s not an overwhelming fear, but it’s something that never would have gotten in my head if not for that day when the world changed.

To be honest, I’m not sure what I’m saying here. I don’t live in fear, but I’m cautiously optimistic. I try to think of the best about most people, trying not to follow others and suspecting people based on race. I had a professor who came from Iran back when I was at Wagner College. I guess the bottom line for me is that I’m glad to be alive, and that I should never try and waste my life.

If you want to read something with a lot more meaning, try “They Missed” by Gail Simone, published on September 13. I met her online on Jonah Weiland’s message boards for Kingdom Come in 1996. While she would become a critically-acclaimed comic book writer, Gail nailed what happened that day and put a positive spin on it.

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