Tuesday, November 2, 2010

growing up on chicken little: having a 9/11 moment

Bad day. The empire's falling, and all that. It's not like this is anything new. A century from now historians will date it — here it begins... or rather, here it begins to end. The so-called 'American Century' — did it start to decline when Joe Mc Carthy cut his teeth in the Senate? With Johnson? Nixon? Reagan? Was there no American Century, after all — but just one disaster after another? But it makes me think...

A weird thing happened to me on the way to 9/11.

I was at the airport — yes airport — in Paris. CDG. That would be Charles deGaulle. It was late August, 2001, and I had to get back to the States in time to start Fall Semester. Just barely making it back on time. I took notes on this event, minute by minute. There was nothing else to do.

I was sleeping at the airport. Which doesn't mean I got any sleep. It just means that I had run out of money one night too soon, and left my favorite little place on the Rue Cujas (overlooking Le Tiers Mythes, my favorite bookstore in Paris). My bags were filled with books from l'Institut du Monde Arabe, a bunch of bookstores and publishers from around the corner on the Rue des Ecoles (l'Harmattan, Presence Africaine, le Livre Penseur...) but most especially Le Tiers Mythes, which magically always had exactly what I didn't know I was looking for, but there it was, with the proprietaire handing it to me, with his "take this, you need this..." Gotcha, every time.

So, I was hauling all these treasures around the airport from all my favorite bookstores. Not letting them go for a minute lest I lose track of them. Yah, obsessive. Guilty as charged.

And I wanted something to eat, so I dragged my bags downstairs to try to buy a sandwich. But the guy at the kiosk wouldn't sell me a sandwich cause all they had left was jambon/fromage. And I insisted that fine, that was okay with me, Mais non! He wouldn't sell me the treif. "C'est pas pour vous!" he scolded me. He was a conscientious Muslim.

So, I went back upstairs to the Gate and thought I'd sleep on the benches. When the Announcements started blaring about keeping track of your luggage or it would be confiscated.

And the gendarmes started wandering through with bayonets on the end of their rifles (or whatever they were), which seemed a bit excessive to me at CDG, don't you think?

And the Announcements got grouchier. Will the person who left a package in bla bla bla sitting area please come to claim it? And the gendarmes were heading my way. And the package was right next to me, not more than six feet away. And it was three in the morning, and there was hardly anyone else around.

I moved away from the package. The gendarmes closed in on it.

It was an old cardboard box, about 2' x 2' and had been taped clumsily. The gendarmes cordoned off the area despite the lack of people around, and by god, they shot the package! Right there in the Waiting Area. Not with the bayonets, but with something. And the package exploded.

With a teddy bear flying through the air. And bathroom towels. And underwear... and stuff like that.

And this woman came out of the restroom, holding the hand of a child. And it was quite obvious: it was just too damned hard to carry her cardboard box luggage and take her kid to the can all at the same time, at 3:00 AM when there was nobody around to bother her stuff.

And one of the gendarmes hauled her away.

And I went up to one of the gendarmes (still hauling around my duffle of books on wheels), and asked what was that about? Was that about the Israelis, I asked him, noticing at that time a sign for El Al nearby.

"Mais non!" he said, "that is about you." He switched to English.

"We are getting warnings all summer long about an attack on American carriers. And so we are watching. We are watching all the entire summer!" he said, glaring at me.

And I took notes on this, for some reason. What time I couldn't get a baguette jambon fromage. What time the Announcements started getting annoying. What time and how many bayonets. What time they blew up the teddy bear and towels. And what he said: Warnings. All. Summer. Long.

It was the end of August, 2001.

The airports in the States were quiet and lax and uneventful.

No bayonets. No frantic announcements. No blown up packages. Nothing at all.

I got home. Unpacked. Took a shower. And threw my notes away.

And didn't think the obvious question for another two weeks.

No comments:

Post a Comment