Thursday, September 11, 2008
There was crazy barge traffic on the river today. I couldn't see all of them over the trees, but I could see the stacks and hear the engines. My legs were burning, so I took the flat high path into Portland instead of dipping down by the river. I could hear the tug straining to push the barges a bit faster than the usual lazy saunter you see them do. On the way back, pedaling through Lannan Park, there was one tug shoving its load upriver in the locks, while up at the switchback by 22nd Street another rig was waiting its turn on the upriver side. By the switchback, at about the point where I noticed the unusual amount of barge traffic, a UPS 747 flew low over the river. About an eighth of a mile up, another UPS plane flew over. Commerce was bubbling in the overcast mid-morning.
Construction trucks were jamming the path on the downtown side of Portland, pushing me behind schedule. Usually that's one of the stretches I can put my head down and fly (or some reasonable facsimile thereof), but today it was more like the riverwalk stretch, where I have to dodge in and out of pedestrians, lollygaggers, Belle of Louisville workers having a smoke break, etc. I never regained my momentum, deciding instead just to chill for the rest of the ride. I jumped off the path up by the skatepark, and took a leisurely wheel through the neighborhood instead of running Adams Street uphill to my house. It took me an extra ten minutes. I need to stay on my bike more, or get up to the Y and get on a stationary when my bike breaks down. The end of the season is approaching, and my condition is more like the beginning of the season.
There is, of course, the symmetry. Fractal geometry tells us there's symmetry down to infinity. Seven years almost to the minute prior to my noticing the first UPS plane, the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. This will be our generation's symmetry, replacing the previous generation's Pearl Harbor, stapled forever into our public consciousness by state-of-the-art television coverage in the media capital in the world.
I was doing inventory at the Clarksville store. It was not a pleasant day for several reasons: I had to be there at 6 a.m., and I am not a morning person; Inventory is never pretty, especially when (like me) you are lax on paperwork organization; it's never fun spending the day with the regional manager, and so on. By 8:30 we were done with the front end so that the arriving salespeople could put the showroom back together and open the store. I was back in the warehouse when a CSR came back and said "come up and look at this, a plane flew into a building in New York". And there it was, the smoking North Tower.
Both towers were down by the time we went to lunch. We had several TVs turned to the news in various points throughout the store, but we decided against running the news on the main feed to the salesfloor, thereby avoiding having over a hundred replications of burning towers glaring at the front door like some J. G. Ballard stage set. Information gleaned in passing seeped in like rumor. Between finishing up the inventory, waiting on customers, and the confusion in the media, we weren't quite sure what was going on. The inventory group (including my regional manager) decided on Hooters for lunch. Now, there's not a lot that annoys me more than Hooters: if you wanna decent steakhouse burger, head over the Logan's at the corner of the lot, where you can get a well-executed (though somewhat unimaginative) pepperjack burger. If you're going to engage in inappropriate work behavior, don't make it borderline: head back across the river to the Gold Showclub on Market. We can stop along the way and cash in a couple twenties for a fistful of ones. When we get there, we can toss back scotch & sodas, discuss the upcoming fourth quarter retail season, and express our undying admiration for the big girls. Hell, we can go to White Castle for all I care – anywhere but Hooters, with its crappy overpriced bar food and empty promise of naughty girl/high school cheerleader sex, a tableau with cameltoe. But there they were, standing around the office, "Hooters for lunch?" I carefully considered my job and decided that this was only the second to last straw.
Waiting for my lunch, I was mentally tabulating the bill to see if it would fit on my debit card in case RM didn't pick up the tab (he didn't). One thing worse than a crappy overpriced lunch is a crappy overpriced lunch with a bounced check fee added. RM was droning on about my filing system or lack thereof, while I was focusing my energy on maintaining the bland laid back exterior which functions like a wax seal between the boiling acid of my contempt and the rest of my workaday world. "The most important thing to me," he says, "is to see you make progress on corralling the paperwork in the store." "No," I thought, "the most important thing to you is that I maintain my cool and not rip your fucking throat out." After a quarter hour or so, I was able to shut down my interior monologue and ride the somber wave of the day. My compatriots at the table were unusually muted in their pro-forma ass kissing. Though we still didn't really know what was going on, there was a gray pall that mirrored the rain outside. Our words were empty, their masks having been torn away. Words were placeholders for long dead ghosts. We didn't pretend otherwise, for at least the time being.
The oddest thing: that old PE song, "911 is a Joke", kept running through my head. A bitter joke indeed. We have yet to figure out just what the joke is.
Today was cloudy and muted as well. John McCain saw his pal Rudy Giuliani get booted from the primaries with his "Noun, verb, 9/11" platform, so he wisely decided that this is the one time he best not overestimate the gullibility of the voting populace. He invited his nemesis Obama to join him in not making hay of the stars -n- stripes on All Fall Down Day, and Obama eagerly accepted the draw, understanding that he could do no right with the Injured Middle American anyway. NPR, engaged in wall-to-wall Sarah Palin coverage, let the date pass with a modest mention or two. The BBC uncharacteristically went for the biggest drama, setting each of their main desk correspondents on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. As for the rest of the media outlets . . . well, it doesn't matter, they're dead to me. NPR only survives because I forget how to reset my clock radio.
Come September 12th, McCain will be back on his horse, making up for the time he conceded today. 9/11 will come up. Maybe even Obama will bring it up first in an effort to outflank him. Either way, the fractals will spread before us, the patterns will repeat, and the words will again don their masks. Somewhere else, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist will once again devalue Third World rage against the US because, surely, only the US Government (or, of course, the Mossad) could actually pull off an operation like 9/11. Someone else somewhere else will pontificate about chickens and roosting. 9/11 barely merits a dip in the noise these days, and the spirals will only amplify as time moves forward, muting themselves again in symmetrical units (10, 20, 25, 50, 75, 100) until it all blends together in the background wash like tires on wet pavement.
September 12th, 2001 was very quiet. Down here on the river, no planes marked the Ohio on the way in to Standiford Field. The constant roar of planes into the UPS hub was silenced. The Jazz Posse beachhead on Rufer Avenue was in another world without the treetop approaches of the UPS planes. Louisville, with its disproportionate level of air traffic, seemed frozen in time. Today, September 11, 2008, commerce clots the river and the skies above.
Tonight at Target, I am reminded of George Bush's exhortation to BUY! for America. It worked pretty well for a while. We pulled out our plastic and bought our way out of recession. The problem is, we kept buying and buying to keep the wolves from the door, but now our cards are maxed, and the wolf is calling again. Sooner or later we're going to have to deal with that recession we avoided, and it looks like the time is now.
Fractal patterns, repeating endlessly: the economy expands, the economy contracts. Information, even culture itself, has become fractal, repetitious, self-replicating. 9/11 moved from event to caesurae to trace to a fractal reflection in the time that it took to focus. True, 9/11 was big enough that the monster choked, but, soon enough, 9/11 was subsumed – first the t-shirts and politicians with t-shirt sloganeering, the commentators reterritorializing with every masked word out of their mouths. Then the jingoist public figures, "God Bless America" in the seventh inning stretch, the conspiracy theory to close the circle. We can, as a people, explain away anything . . . just drown it in noise and repetition and assume that, like the sun, it will rise every morning.
Coming out of Target, I decided I needed noise in a very literal sense, so I slipped Pig Destroyer into the Maxx's CD player and gave it a boost. Not long after 9/11, Tony put an "Operation Infinite Justice" window hanger in the front door of 138 Adams – it was the one with the American flag and the burning tower in the background, with a bald eagle shedding a single tear in the foreground. He figured he needed an American flag beard on the door. That was not paranoid behavior at the time.
Tonight, I will pour myself a glass of green iced tea, print out some more CD covers, and do my best to avoid election coverage. I've got a show tomorrow. Thankfully, I'm finishing this thing early enough that I can get up in the morning and get back out on my bike. Unless it rains.