Debating William & Mary, sports and culture since 2011. Updated every Wednesday.


In Culture, Long form on September 13, 2011 at 12:18 pm

New York City on the tenth anniversary of 9/11

Really, it was just another day.

I woke up around noon hungover. Too lazy to cook but too antsy to wait for takeout, I showered, put on sweats and went for a walk, planning to hit the Shake Shack on 86th Street. I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be until late that afternoon, to catch a softball game in Hell’s Kitchen.

There was a street fair on 3rd Avenue, with stands offering barbecued corn on the cob and fried calamari, which, given the state of my stomach, didn’t sit right. The clouds overhead promised rain, but failed to deliver, and the wind whipped down the avenues in bold gusts, scattering tossed wrappers and enveloping the neighborhood with a distinctly Upper East Side aroma of fresh air and dog shit.

The bars were flooded with people wearing NFL jerseys, though it wasn’t all Jets and Giants fans. The 9/11-sports angle is so played out I don’t even want to try to chase it down, though I suppose it is interesting that the first Sunday of the 2011 NFL season coincided with the tenth anniversary of the attacks.

It was slow going to the restaurant. My legs were stiff from softball practice and dancing. I had slipped and fallen in front of the bar the night before, and everything I wore reeked of stale liquor and cheap beer. When I woke up, my pockets were stuffed with crumpled dollar bills and leaflets from the concert hall. I was also a little deaf; I’d been too close to the speakers.

In the week leading up to the anniversary, the conversation surrounding 9/11/11 was dominated by fear of another attack. I was sitting at a bar on Thursday, standing in for a friend who had to miss his fantasy draft, when Mayor Bloomberg interrupted the Saints-Packers season opener to announce that the city had received credible evidence of a planned attack for that Sunday. As jarring as that information was, the collective sigh of people who had lived in New York for much, much longer than I expressed exasperation bordering on annoyance – as if this weekend were different from any other.

I was 12 on 9/11. I woke up to my radio alarm clock and there wasn’t any music playing. Memory is susceptible to embellishments, but as I remember it, the first thing I heard that morning was the news that the second tower had been hit. My parents hadn’t heard the news, they were reading the paper and drinking coffee when I told them.

That’s my only story from 9/11. They played country music between class periods at my middle school that day.

I timed the line perfectly. Shake Shack is incredibly popular; it’s typically a 45 minute or hour long wait for a burger. I waited 20. It was a small victory on a day that, until that point, was characterized by an ear-splitting headache and dehydration.

There was a firefighter in his dress uniform behind me in line with his son, who was probably around four or five years old. Although the ceremony at Ground Zero was televised, it wasn’t the only memorial service held in the city that day.

He ordered for his son and waited by the counter with his hat in his hands. This had been a long day. The boy was being irritable and cranky, tugging at his coat and whining as he picked up the tray, holding two burgers, from the cashier.

Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders. Knows remembers believes a corridor in a big long garbled cold echoing building of dark red brick sootbleakened by more chimneys than its own, set in a grassless cinderstrewnpacked compound surrounded by smoking factory purlieus and enclosed by a ten foot steel-and-wire fence like a penitentiary or a zoo, where in random erratic surges, with sparrowlike childtrebling, orphans in identical and uniform blue denim in and out of remembering but in knowing constant as the bleak walls, the bleak windows where in rain soot from the yearly adjacenting chimneys streaked like black tears.

– William Faulkner, Light in August

These are the moments that you remember. We’d lost the game but we were just playing for fun anyway.

Afterwards we walked the ten blocks from Dewitt Clinton Park to a burrito place with an outdoor patio. They served us margaritas and sangria, but I didn’t drink anything.

I kicked my hangover at some point during the fourth inning of the softball game, when I broke a sweat covering second on an aborted double play. I should’ve been able to throw out the runner at first, but I approached the bag all wrong and nearly tripped when I turned to look at first.

It didn’t matter, the next batter flied out and that was the inning.

The ball came in belt high, dropping into the strike zone from six feet in the air right over the plate. I lifted my front foot, drawing it from the left field line to dead center, sat on my back hip and pulled it to the left field gap, landing it just to the right of the left fielder.

The throw had me at third base by about 10 feet, but I slid anyway for effect, hoping maybe the third basemen would get nervous and lose the ball on the tag.

He didn’t and I was out.


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