Because of the time difference, by 6 a.m. in San Francisco, September 11th 2001 was already over – even though, of course, the day hadn’t yet begun.
Karen heard about it before me – on the morning bus into San Francisco's Financial District. After she called, I called my boss - should we open the bookstore? So many shops on Chestnut St. would stay shut that day. Michael left it up to me.
We opened. Turned out, a lot of people - citizens, we were all US citizens, even the tourists from Germany, from France. Especially the tourists from Germany and France - a lot of us needed a place to go. To talk, to cry. To get angry, to mourn. To talk, cry, to get angry and mourn – over and over. Different people, but the same people. All day long. People we saw every day. People we’d never see again.
People trying to make sense out of the senseless. Isn’t that the definition for crazy? But we were all a little crazy that day. All of us who came into the bookstore because we needed others.
People like Paulina, Paulina letting me into Delaney’s early, to watch those images on the tv’s inside the bar. Those images on the tv. Smoke. Skyscrapers. Smoke. Plane. Smoke. Skyscrapers. Smoke. Plane.
Plane, then no plane. Fireball, fireball – a neverending fireball. Then smoke. More smoke. On the tv. Inside Delaney’s. All day.
To get angry.
New York was so far away. We felt so far away. But so close, because of the stupid tv. There in Delaney’s. There at the lunch-counter. There in your bedroom. New York was just right there. So close and so far.
On our way into Modesto - today, ten years later. Ten years later and now we have Elizabeth and Kristina. And now we live in Alameda, not San Francisco. Ten years later and we’re headed into Modesto for the 40 Day Blessing of our nephew, Andoni. Andoni - named after my father, Tony Petrulakis. My father who we don’t have, Andoni who we do. So much changes in ten years, so much.
And on our way to Modesto, speeding along 580, we approach an overpass at 1st Street and Springtown Boulevard. A Livermore overpass. And on that overpass this morning, at about 10:30 am, twelve hours ago, there stood a lone figure holding a flag. Just a man, holding an American flag. Knees locked, his body ramrod straight. Not responding to the honks from the cars rushing beneath him.
Just standing, holding a flag – the flag snapping in the wind.
And I know today there are commentators who say we haven’t done enough. Others who say we’ve done too much. And they’ll both use this day to get their warped little thoughts across. Because they won’t be satisfied just–
–they won’t be satisfied with anything other than not listening to anyone else. They won’t be satisfied until the shrill noise they’ve made today adds to the cacophony.
But when a figure holding a flag, a ramrod straight figure holding a flag, when that figure necessitates that you – makes a Mom and Dad explain to their seven-year-old and their four-year-old – when you are made to try and explain the senseless actions of lunatics to children, when you interrupt the children in the backseat who are singing silly songs, when you try and limn the ugly facts of that ten-year-old day to the singing children in the backseat.
When you do this because the day itself is so conspicuous. When, as Elizabeth says, as your seven-year-old says, Mommy, Daddy, it's a special day, the day when part of America died. When flags are flying everywhere – not just from the overpass, not just held by a solitary man – when flags fly from front yards, from eighteen-wheelers, from the hillsides of the Altamont Pass. When you and your wife are forced to explain all these flags, all the red, white and blue – to your silly, singing children?
You want the commentators to stop. You want the king to quiet. You want the pretenders to the throne to refrain – for one day.
And here I am, adding to the noise. Adding to the noise when all I wanted to do was – remember.