On an otherwise nondescript Tuesday morning a decade ago (give or take a couple of days) I was in my nondescript apartment in Albert Lea, Minnesota. I was getting ready for work and I had the TV on, largely as background noise.
The Today Show.
Why? Why not.
I walked out of the bathroom after putting on my makeup and, upon entering the living room, I noticed that the Today Show was showing a quasi-nondescript shot of the World Trade Center – with smoke coming out of one of the towers. My initial thought was: The WTC bombing in 1993 was in February or March; this couldn’t be the anniversary of it, so why are they showing images of the WTC with smoke coming out of it?
Then I noticed the indication that the broadcast was live.
Then I started paying attention to the sound…
Then I realized I was going to be late for work – which was likely to go forward no matter what was happening in New York City.
At the time I was a law clerk for a state district court judge in a small, rural county in the unfashionable end of the state (don’t get me wrong: I loved the place, but I’m characterizing how the area was treated by the state powers that be – who always felt as if, when the snows would come, I-35 never needed to be plowed that far south.) A big trial might actually have been postponed on motion of one or both sides’ attorneys, but this wasn’t a big trial day; it was small claims court (Conciliation Court in Minnesota court system-eze) day, with my boss’s small courtroom packed full of people and issues that were, by any objective lawyer-world measure, mundane. But these weren’t lawyers and their issues were more real to them than probably most judicial matters that get handled in that courthouse.
When court convened, both of the towers were still standing and we didn’t yet know about the Pentagon or Shanksville.
When the Conciliation Court session ended and a sherrif’s deputy came in and told us about all of that – as well as what had by then happened to the towers – my boss sighed and said that it appeared to be the start of the final war between the christians and the muslims.
As it turns out, he was only half right. It has indeed proven to be the beginning of the final war – but of the corporatist oligarchy against the United States Constitution and the American citizenry.
The following is what I cobbled together in time to appear in the Sept. 14, 2001 edition of the Texas Triangle:
More than a few times over the course of my last few regularly-scheduled columns, I mused on ’70s television.
Just so you’ll know I’m somewhat consistent as to timefrittering, rest assured that I watched the telly during the ’80s as well.
At about this time of the season in 1983 I was entering my second year of college – undergrad – after transferring to Texas A&M from the University of Houston, where I’d somehow managed to avoid flunking any classes over the course of two semesters and a summer session even though I truly believe that my brain never actually showed up for a class. And, beyond that, I could fill up hundreds of pages with 21st century ruminations as to how my move up Highway 6 was both a good move and a bad one.
But, I won’t.
Nevertheless, there I was in 1983, living with relatives in a small town roughly thirty miles from College Station and making the commute to Aggieland daily.
And a bad commute it really wasn’t – not much more of a commute than that which I endured between my parents’ home in Houston suburbia over to Cougar High on Calhoun, but definitely a different one. When first I found myself stuck behind a cattle drive, it dawned on me that ‘Farm Road’ really means ‘Farm Road.’
And – when I would get back to my semi-rural digs after a day at my new U, I’d typically plop down on a ridiculously un-chic (not to mention unsanitary) couch and guzzle inordinate numbers of cans of oblivion juice (which I wouldn’t be able to purchase legally for a few months yet; Texas’ drinking age at the time was 19 and I was an 18 year-old who shouldn’t have graduated from high school at 17 but did anyway because, wouldn’tcha know it, that’s when I managed to put 12th grade behind me.) Often I’d listen to Dark Side of the Moon until I passed out, but just as often I gazed into one particular monster’s single eye.
During the fall semester of 1983, ABC caught a lot of flak for broadcasting The Day After, a made-for-TV flick about nuclear war told through the eyes of various fictional inhabitants of one real town in mid-America: Lawrence, Kansas. (I seem to recall that for some time afterward a cry of some anti-nuke folks was “Let Lawrence Live!”) This movie still pops up in reruns now and then (just look for an aging-but-not-yet-feeble Jason Robards and a very young John Lithgow.) In fact, I even saw part of it once within the past year.
Overtly anti-nuke movies were en vogue during the first part of that decade. The Day After probably got the most press of any of them but it wasn’t the best, by far.
One particularly compelling one (Testament, if I recall; I haven’t seen this one since it originally aired, so forgive me if that’s not the correct title) focused on a typical mom-and-popand-two-plus-kids family whose suburbia isn’t hit but, nevertheless, get to experience a nuclear aftermath: no power, etc. The most poignant single moment of any of the movies was in this one – where the mother (father never came home on the day of the attack) and the kids find some batteries for a cassette player – and use it to play, and dance to, The Beatles’ “All My Lovin'”. As a result, two decades on, that Beatles song, romantic fluff though it may be, stirs more emotion in me than even “A Day in the Life,” “Revolution 9” or even “Across the Universe.”
Overall, though, the most chilling was Special Report – the story of a band of terrorists who manage to make a nuclear device and, for all practical purposes, holds America hostage from a small boat in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.
As you might imagine, that one did not have a happy ending either, but the unique aspect of it was that it was produced on video, rather than film, to look as though it was a network newscast (despite several of the ‘news personnel’ being recognizable as actors to frequent viewers of Barney Miller, disclaimers were aired at almost every commercial break.)
Through its form, its substance felt real.
I know that the name of my column, when it appeared regularly, probably perplexed some people. It was “Concentrate on the Constitution” even though, more often than not, it concentrated on the transphobia of certain wellheeled homosexuals. I did so because I knew that few, if any, of the people who should be writing about it would do so – but that it was something that must be written about.
And, just by virtue of happenstance, over the last few months I wove into the column ruminations about stuff I’ve seen on television recently which reminded me of things I’d seen on television long ago.
I watched quite a bit of television on Tuesday just as I’m sure most of you did. It was only 10:30 a.m. central time on Tuesday when first I heard some talking head (Who? Quite frankly, I forget) emit a thinly-veiled assertion that why we were all watching TV on Tuesday was at least partially the result of our nation placing as much emphasis as it does on individual civil liberties.
And, by 9:45 p.m., I was hearing numbers from network insta-polls claiming that 66 percent of whoever was polled would be willing to give up some civil liberties if it would solve certain problems.
Please. Now, more than ever, Concentrate on the Constitution.
What’s left of it anyway.
My 9/11 remembrance is going to be watching my DVD of Fahrenheit 9/11…
…and then realizing that, living or not, Bin Laden won.
But he got killed, right? Mo Green style, courtesy of the Seals?
Just because he died, doesn’t mean he didn’t win. And he’s not Michael Corleone at the end of Godfather III; he’s Arthur Edens in the middle of Michael Clayton…
except that Tom Wilkinson’s character was the good guy – the good guy who actually knew what was happening, but who no one would listen to…
except the bad guys.
Bin Laden won.
Bush and Cheney, even if not his co-conspirators in the truest sense, nevertheless were the profit-mongering ghouls-in-chief, taking advantage of the situation, no differently than if they’d both rushed to Lower Manhattan while I was in Conciliation Court and began taking bets on which people in which tower would hit the pavement fastest once they started jumping.
As for America?
…and our Constitution?
…and our citizenry?
…and our Constitution?
…and our economy?
…and our Constitution???????