Attack on America

It’s Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, 10:30 a.m. I’m standing in my kitchen munching on an apple. Suddenly, a huge man who looks like the pro wrestler Razer Ramon comes thundering through the front door announcing that he is an employee of the Water and Gas Dept. and needs to read the meter.

Without asking for identification or taking any security precautions whatsoever, I show him to the basement stairway and resume chomping on my apple. Soon, my basement housemates greet Razer Ramon and he starts talking to them about how the country is at war.

“We’re at war, dude,” I hear him say. “Haven’t you turned on the TV or the radio yet?”

I turn on the television and see a huge cloud of smoke and debris where the World Trade Center once stood. The news anchor explains that two hijacked passenger jets smashed into the towers, causing them to collapse.

Razor Ramon seems to be less shocked about what happened in New York than he is that no one in my house has turned on a television or radio yet. He repeats at least three times, “I can’t believe you haven’t had the TV on yet.”

After a few seconds Razor Ramon and my housemates join me in the living room to watch the news coverage. Ten minutes later, Razor Ramon decides he better get back to work. Shortly after that my housemates break off to go grocery shopping.

I’m transfixed, and stay on the couch watching the live broadcast and repeated crash and collapse videos. I’ve seen enough death on the news to be somewhat desensitized to it, but this is different. It’s death on a grand scale, through bizarre tactics, with remarkable and chilling results.

As much as I want to take what’s happening seriously, though, the various TV stations keep attempting to over-dramatize what’s happening (as if it isn’t dramatic enough on its own) by coming up with awesome titles. “Attack on America” is the first one I notice. Then I turn the station to see “Day of Terror” — which takes the word tacky to a new extreme.

As the clock creeps past noon, I decide to report to work at the local weekly newspaper, where I’m being phased out of employment. As I walk down Superior Street, everything looks normal in Duluth, but it feels really weird. Everyone is watching each other for clues about how we are supposed to behave. The assumption at this point is that everyone knows what has happened, and the world is supposed to have changed, even though nothing has really changed in Duluth. It’s a normal day, except for the news.

At the Ripsaw office, the television is on for the first time I can remember. I go into the lounge area every 10 minutes, watch a few replays, sigh, shake my head and go back to work. Everyone else does the same thing.

It’s Election Day, so when I leave work I have two hours to vote in the City Council races before I’m due at a dinner party. Because I have recently moved to a new precinct, I have to find a registered voter in my neighborhood to vouch for me at the polling place. None of my housemates are home, so I end up going door to door, wondering if people will be suspicious of me under the circumstances. Eventually I find a guy who is willing to go vote with me if I’ll wait until he finishes dinner.

I end up arriving late to my scheduled dinner party, where a guest is informing everyone that her brother works in the World Trade Center. She woke up this morning to her sister screaming at her through the telephone about what might have happened. Later in the day they were told their brother was not at work and is alive and well.

Despite the good news, this dinner guest is obviously still shaken by the day’s turn of events. She expresses relief about her brother’s safety, but she is noticeably hurt that many of her brother’s coworkers — one of which is his best friend — are probably dead. Within two minutes, the dinner conversation changes to a new subject and the whole table is loudly laughing and joking as if no one died today.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His book, “The Spowl Ribbon,” is available online at paullundgren.com.