Stan strolls struts on
into the DownUnder and shouts out a hearty hello. He is all smiles and
giggles tonight. Ready to buy a few rounds.
Only a couple folks even bother to look his way, and no one offers a
real response. There is no sound aside from the television and the whir of
the smoke-eater. It’s a weird scene, man. Everyone is transfixed, up to and
including the busboy, who Stan is surprised to see seated at the bar. What
are they watching that’s so fascinating? It looks kind of like a Godzilla
movie. Fire and smoke and people running.
No one is drinking beer tonight, it's all shots and calls. There is a
long uncomfortable moment where Stan realizes that he is invading something
private and sacrosanct. He feels wildly out of place, as though he's the
only person in the room who isn’t getting the joke. Cindy turns to him and
mouths the question 'Jack and Coke?' If Cindy isn’t speaking, Stan feels
pretty certain that he shouldn't speak either, so he nods his head instead
What appears to be happening on the television makes no immediate sense to
Stan. On closer inspection, it doesn't look that much like a movie after
all. No, no way, there are no production values. He can see the CNN logo in
the bottom right hand of the shot. The screen is filled with images of thick
smoke and shooting flames, massive piles of rubble, and stunned people
covered in white ashes walking around like zombies.
As Stan tries to get his bearings, the picture changes. A plane is
flying directly into one of the World Trade Center buildings. It scores a
spectacular bull's-eye. Whoa! What was that? I don’t know, but look, the
other building seems to already be on fire. The commentators are blithering,
stepping all over each other's lines. Cindy brings over his drink – he can
tell it’s a strong one, it’s practically clear - and Stan catches her arm,
loudly whispering "Cindy, what the hell is going on?"
Red overhears the question and turns around on his stool to face Stan
directly. "What's goin on? You just crawl out of a cave or somethin,
Junior?" His face is angry and bemused at the same time.
"We're under attack. You heard me. The United States of America.
That’s what’s goin on. The fuckin Arabs are attacking us. You believe that?
Bunch of murderin towelheads. They killed several thousand people in the
World Trade Center.”
“ Look at that,” he says, pointing a brawny finger at the television.
The tower is disintegrating. Stan watches a time-cut series, watches as it
“They hijacked four of our airliners and used em like flying
bombs. Where you been all day, anyway?”
Stan just stands there.
“They crashed one of our planes into the Pentagon, too. Killed a bunch
of people down there. Flew the fucker right into the side of the building.
Stay tuned, they’ll be showin the fires burnin down there again, soon.
Traffic’s all cut off, if you got any plans of headin into town tonight.”
“Crazy towelheads even tried to hit the fuckin Capitol Building, what
they’re sayin, but that plane ended up crashing in Southern Pennsylvania.
Don’t know what happened to it, but good fuckin riddance. They said the
hijackers were plannin on circling back around to DC. I’m about certain that
was their plan.”
Red stares at Stan like he can’t believe what he’s seeing. And in a
way he can’t. Stan is all right, but the sonofabitch is clueless. “The
fuckin president has been hidin out somewhere all day. Makes you feel
secure. Sayin earlier that they was tryin to land a plane on his ass. Or
somethin. Stay tuned, I’m sure they got reports on that story comin up. It’s
fuckin chaos… I guess old Bush is just flyin around up there in the sky,
keeping the big watch tickin on Air Force One." Red arched an eyebrow. "If
he's still alive, that is. Hard to say… Bet Hillary is probably givin your
boy Clinton a hummer right about now. You don't think so?"
Red's voice sinks down into a low rumble. "More bad stuff is probably
comin up. All day long, man, all day long. Nobody has a clue what's gonna
happen next. Drink up." Red downs a double shot of Jamesons and turns back
to face the screen, speaking to himself. "Dumb motherfucker".
Vickie turns to Stan, her face pale and worried. "Frankie’s doing some
work down at the Pentagon this week. We’ve been trying to get him on his
cell phone all day. You know Frankie, don't you?"
Stan nods. Frankie is a contractor and a regular here. Friend of
Vickie's? He’d have to ask Susan.
Riley speaks next. "Lex's wife works there too, you know. And Maggie's
son. She still hasn't heard anything about him. I don’t know what Lex’s
Stan is trying to take all of this information in…
though he had sensed someone speaking his name, a pallid Lex walks into the
bar and takes a stool next to Riley, who silently buys him a drink and lays
an arm across his shoulder. Not many people here knew much about Lex before
today, but they all feel that they know him pretty well now. He is a player
in the current scenario, touched by it, and they all look his way
expectantly. He knows what he is supposed to say. He has been saying the
same thing since two-thirty this afternoon, when Connie finally managed to
get hold of a phone for long enough to reach him. It has turned into a very
long day for Lex; he looks his age and then some.
"She's all right” he says solemnly. “My wife is all right. She works
in a different ring of the building than the one that was hit. I didn’t hear
anything from her until hours after I heard about the crash. They had us all
huddled downin the basement for a while at work, and then we evacuated.”
“You were sent home,” corrects Red.
“Connie says that the halls are pretty smoky…” Lex pauses, to light a
smoke of his own. He fumbles with his lighter, and Cindy reaches over the
bar to assist him. “And it’s loud. I could barely hear her over the racket.
She's feeling a little jittery about everything, but since she's considered
essential personnel, she's going to have to stay there at least through
Lex adds, with a little bitterness in his voice which nobody picks up
on, “She’s got work to do.” Could she have been so busy that she needed
several hours to reach him?
Lex slaps Riley on the back and moves over to take a seat beside Stan,
briefly clutching his forearm.
A murmur of support and encouragement runs through the room in a small
wave, and Red unexpectedly buys Lex a drink. “We’re gonna stomp those
bastards down like fuckin ants” he proclaims. The room returns to quiet as
the screens flicker overhead.
“God, you wouldn’t believe my day” Lex begins, speaking quietly to
has been at the DownUnder since the moment the bar opened, two hours earlier
than usual. Before that, he had waited in his van across the street, smoking
cigarettes and listening to the flow of news from the radio.
Now, as he watched, the television screen was consumed with fire.
There was a mammoth blaze, burning out of control, and for a moment Red saw
the flames morph into a likeness of his wife, yellow fingers reaching
towards his face. Red raised two fingers and Cindy brought him another
Stan returns to his house on Northrop Street feeling all shook up. He has
never been more sober in his life. He can hear the television set playing in
the den, and he immediately spies Susan sleeping on the recliner, a blue
blanket pulled up to her chin. He cringes. Forgot all about her…
It is still early evening, only 9:40. Stan bends down to lightly kiss
her brow and Susan stirs awake.
“I didn’t know where you were” she says groggily. “I tried calling you
all day and I couldn’t reach you.”
“I am so, so sorry. I had no idea what was going on today. Out there.
I’ve been sitting here at home, writing like a maniac all day, non-stop. I
didn’t even have a clue.” Stan tries to think of what to say next. He
doesn’t feel much like bragging about the sixty-four pages he's written.
Stan glances over at the phone display. The light is blinking. There
are eight new messages. “I had the music on pretty loud,” he sheepishly
Susan shifts the recliner into the sitting position and yawns. “You
were probably loaded, Stan, and sending the neighbors into an even higher
level of panic if they happened to see you dancing around. Well, good for
you. You were lucky to miss all this shit. A lot of people at work were
scared to death… I was scared to death, a little bit anyway. We didn't know
what was going to happen. We watched the TV in the break room most of the
day. Then they sent everyone home early, about three, but most of us went
across the street to Don Pablos until the traffic thinned out. The roads out
of Tyson were a real nightmare...”
“You know, I've got to get a cell phone. You should probably carry one
too. If things get real bad.” Susan stretched and tossed the blanket aside.
“For you, maybe we’ll get one that vibrates.”
“Would you make me a drink, please? A big healthy one. I stopped by
the Liquor Store on the way back. Talk about crowded. There’s a bottle of
Jack in the kitchen.”
As Stan turns to go make drinks, Susan speaks with uncharacteristic
reticence ”Are you scared by all of this, Stan?”
Stan tells Susan about how he had gone to the DownUnder and the
sobering scene that he had encountered. He had been ready to call her as
soon as he got settled. They could celebrate, her trip and his book.
He had smoked a joint on his way to the bar, for God's sake. It had
been most unsettling for him to come across such an unexpected and
horrifying situation… And to be so high and unprepared to deal with it all.
had felt that he needed to stay and talk with Lex for a while, he told
Susan. He just walked into the situation. The guy had come straight over to
him, even though they had only met one time before. He couldn’t just get up
and leave Lex sitting there. At times as they had talked, he had found
himself wanting to giggle at some piece of video streaming from the
television screen; this was a reflex action of his, a kind of nervous tick
that he often had in the face of sudden tension or harsh emotion. He was
certainly glad he had been able to suppress it. But that guy, Lex, what a
crazy dude, he was talking about everything under the sun, and Stan was just
trying to soak in the images from the screen. It was hard. It was
Good. Stan found the fifth of Jack Daniels in the kitchen cabinet, and
filled two tumblers with ice. He brought out the glasses and the Jack and
placed them on the edge of the coffee table along with a plastic bottle of
Coke. Only half a pack of smokes? He returned to the kitchen and shook a
fresh pack out of the carton from on top of the refrigerator.
Stan sat cross-legged on the floor with Susan, and they smoked and
talked above the chatter from the television. Sometimes they would stop and
stare at a fresh image of the disaster. Stan told Susan that she should go
ahead and take her cruise. (If he had waited another twenty-four hours, he
would have known that the proper phrasing was ‘If you cancel your vacation,
the terrorists will have already won’.) Susan has absolutely no desire to
get on a plane right now, but she also doesn’t feel like staying this close
to the District. She doesn’t know what she wants to do at the moment. She
wants another drink. The whiskey is filling her body with a sweet pleasant
warmth. She would like very much to sleep now.
Stan moves his desk chair into a position that will allow him to see the
television while he types.
Stan is writing because he is not sure what else he should be doing. He
thinks that he will be up for most of the night. He can always write. It’s
not much. He hasn’t absorbed things yet. He just feels that it would be best
for him to go into record mode. Most of what he types over the next several
hours consists of words and phrases that he picks up randomly from CNN.
"People are running in sheer terror… Those numbers can run into the
thousands…. The other airplane that crashed near Pittsburgh…. The explosion
of 1993… Warned three weeks ago… [Gulliani is mournful, his eyes dead]. My
focus is on as many lives as possible… closing off the airspace around
Manhattan… The United States is much stronger than they would believe…
barbarians… [giant metal fingers] I want to commend the mayor of New York
City… we want New Yorkers to remain calm… [the President has returned from
wherever] Well, this is a horrible attack… We will continue to have a great
and free country... [just lights, searchlights] Save as many as possible…
large number of firefighters lost. The city is now closed, the airspace
around the city is closed… trying to get inside the buildings...
reinforcements soon. We have 1500 people at Fairy Park moved by EMS… [young
child in dirty bandages] Saint Vincent singles them out and commends them…
blood donations… [blur] It was the most horrific thing I've ever seen in my
life. 75 Barkley Street … trapped… finally went through a basement and found
clean air. If you really want to know what New Yorkers are all about…
turned off the gas in nearby city buildings… whether they're injured or
still trapped inside… compared to Pearl Harbor… one of the most heinous
attacks in world history… war support… people can't do this to us… vicious
cowardly terrorist can't stop us… Keep the schools open, keep the children
in the schools. Children with metro cards will be able to do it. If any
children don’t have parents to pick them up… all NYPD officers are now on
duty… Apparently, frequent CNN commentator Barbara Olson managed to make a
phone call to her husband Solicitor General Ted Olson just minutes before…
Described boxcutters… Get rid of the clothes…get rid of the clothes…
instead of frightening people now, these actions should make people feel
more confident. We have people in the command center right now… [Cardinal
Egan] Please. Everyone in their own way should say a prayer…. [who] Vicious
cowardly terrorists can't stop us..."
Stan's drink has become a memory. All of the flavor has long since faded.
With the ice now melted away and his throat scratchy and parched, Stan has
no choice but to return to the emptiness of the kitchen. He walks with his
ears on alert. Listening for what? The cubes from the ice maker rattle like
bones in his empty glass. It is deathly quiet outside.
Stan is able to pour most of the remaining Jack Daniels into his
tumbler. Forget about the cola. A belt remains, and he downs it straight
from the bottle. He looks at what he has been typing and wonders what it
will mean to him in a day or a week. It doesn't matter. He simply feels that
he should try and catch this moment. There is nothing else for him to do.
Stan has always had a reverential attitude towards chaos. He holds it
in awe. He tells people that he thinks that chaos is the natural order of
things. He thinks that today might be a test of that concept. Maybe…
Stan’s ashtray is overflowing. He finds himself feeling short of breath, as
though he had been running for miles. His heart is pounding and he finds
himself hyper-alert. A dry heave comes, and then another. He has not had a
panic attack for a good twenty years. Is he having one now?
No, probably not. Nothing that dramatic. Just too many cigarettes. He
empties his ashtray into the wicker trashcan beside his desk, lights another
smoke, turns the televisions closed captioning on, and restarts the Funhouse
cycle up again, this time at a much lower volume. Between songs, and in the
rare quiet moment, he can hear the CNN reporters talking excitedly. Ron
Asheton's guitar howls as the fires burn and the update lines scroll across
the bottom of the screen.
It is a nightmare. It is perfect. It is nature.
"You know every airport in the country is shut down right now… Chapter
5 of the NATO charter. Laying the groundwork upfront… green light and
support to do whatever we feel is necessary. All 19 members… A copy of the
Koran and a videotape of how to fly a jet… a terrorist cell in Boston. Two
men, both of them cab drivers, plotting around the millennium…
Just 18 minutes
later… suddenly Washington became a target…. The first of the two trade
centers collapses… just gives away… horrendous number of lives… people
leaping, horrible, people leaping to save their own lives, people leaping
from the building in sheer panic. …Just before the crash a passenger called
911… we see the debris of it here; soot on the walls… leaders in the
basement, it is so unstable - they worry about tripping and they worry about
collapse… What do you expect?… very sorrowful day for our country… dastardly
and cowardly act… This was a sophisticated and complicated planning
operation. There aren’t many groups with that level of sophistication. A
handful… President Bush has denounced the dastardly act… what kind of a
society can we continue to have… protecting human lives versus protecting
their civil liberties... No more curbside luggage check-in... An act of
war of the worse kind, an act of war against the Pentagon. So we have to
know who those people are… resilient proud country such as we are… American
life has been changed, I don’t want to say forever… we will get rid of
them… we are not going to change our lives for these people... They have to
have a safe haven somewhere, so lets go after them... You put two and two
together and it's not entirely unreasonable to come up with four..."
Stan sleeps with his head on the desk for a long, long time. His dreams are
just short meaningless scenes, populated by the voices of Iggy and CNN. When
he does awake and turns off Funhouse - God, he hates that album - he sees a
female reporter dressed in a red pantsuit speaking to Mayor Gulliani.
"Do you think the skyline will ever be whole again?", she asks.
What an idiot.
"Standing by from what used to be the World Trade Center…. as close as
you can get to what used to be the world trade center…."