zestypinto: (Default)
So people are airing their 9/11 memories on Facebook. I dunno, I thought about posting it there, but it felt too personal at times for me. I did post something on G+, but I kept it brief: you won't really understand unless you think about it, knew a little of the lingo there.

I'm glad people are more willing to talk about 9/11 than ever before. And not in the way where they're vigorously waving plastic flags and buying handguns to defend themselves against brown people like so many years ago. I'm glad people are talking about it and remembering the incident as a day people died, and a day when they see the people as people and not as speech material.

I never wanted to talk about 9/11 because of that. It made me feel dirty, thinking about how all those people died in a war they never wanted to be part of, but now used to start a new war: gravedigging for votes, people finding excuses to embrace xenophobia, self-preservation at its most hedonistic roots. As most of you know, I'm Asian, but I'm also very Westernized, so I'm all for equal rights regardless of ethnicity or gender, so seeing the things that 9/11 inspired to the wrong people ticked me off to no end.

With Bin-Laden gone, and with the politicians too busy embracing left or right wings now, I feel like more people are dropping the flags and getting personal, retrospective; I feel like the dead can finally rest in peace, thankfully. So now I feel like I can talk about it more comfortably, without the knowledge that people will abuse the innocent lives lost. Yes, Homeland Security still exists, and Penn Station still resembles a scene from the Cold War, but now the excuse of 9/11 has begun to settle down, give or take a Sikh-shooting moron.

So I guess... here goes my own experiences. During my years when I still went to Tulane, I was young, a little cocksure, and socially inept as all hell. Looking for work at the time, I gave up a stressful four month hell period where I worked at a comic store notorious for its adult materials. My brother recommended I should do a temp job. Recommended meaning, he basically forced me to because all I was doing was staying home playing video games.

So, every other day I would get the collared shirt, a nice sports coat, and a tie, and I would go to temp agencies. You would walk in, you would fill in an application, you would take some computer test on MS Office, and then you'd talk with a recruiter. Remember when I mentioned that I was socially inept? Yeah, this was an issue that would come to haunt me for years, but nothing turns off a recruiter quite like talking to them stuttering like crazy out of nervousness.

But NYC is a big city, I'm sure you know: there are a LOT of temp agencies. After awhile, you start to pick up on things: how certain functions are done, how to speak with people, how to walk and try to behave. So it wasn't long before I had a temp interview where I had a high test score, and an ability not to stammer and soon enough I had my first job.

I won't go into details, but I will talk about my third job because that is what you're here for: yes, my third job had me working in the Financial District in the World Trade Center. At the time, I never visited it. To be honest, I never had an excuse. Plus, after the car bomb a couple years before, I felt like I would get in the way of cops patrolling there.

I don't know if you know this, but the World Trade Center is a giant mall under there. I remember a big Duane Reade, a bunch of clothing stores, some fancy restaurants, and a number of other big companies. I think I even remember Giuliani bragging about how clothing was untaxed at the time and encouraged people to visit places like the WTC's clothing stores. Plus, it was connected to two of the greatest things I could hope for: transit lines. Not only did the PATH have a stop here, but so did the E line, which made things ridiculously easy for commuting.

Within that mall, there were several entrances to the financial parts depending on which building you wanted to enter. I only knew the twin towers, and I was giddy when I realized that Building 2 meant I was going into one of them. Of course, the car bomb made security tighter there, so I had to go through what would be an eventual necessity for any future job in the Financial District: a photo ID made by the concierge after a vigorous check of identity markers. Once I got that, then it was into a huge elevator that zipped you up.

Now, one of the biggest firms that controlled part of Tower 2 was Morgan Stanley Dean Witter: now known as Morgan Stanley, and let me tell you they controlled a good number of floors. The people who worked there also seemed fairly happy with where they were. I believe I was on the 46th floor.

My job wasn't anything so illustrious: I was a copy clerk. This is a fancy term for "scanner." It was mindless stuff, but I enjoyed it because of the mindlessness. At that high up, I could look out the windows of one of the meeting rooms and admire the entire coast and surrounding townships of New Jersey. And for the record, yes, I could technically see where my house was from there: it wasn't too hard to pinpoint since I lived next to a fairly large apartment complex.

One of the floors itself was devoted to a cafeteria, and I remember enjoying how good the food was. And to be honest, the people there were generally nice as well: I think they knew I was happy there, and I think it spoiled me as a result since I wouldn't find a job as larger-than-life than this for awhile. Here I was, working in Camelot. Sure, I was a peon, but I felt as though I was working among some of the greatest people I could imagine.

I don't remember when I left the World Trade Center, only that my boss was sad to see me go. We shared a hug and she told me to contact her if I needed a recommendation back into college. I'll never forget her freckled face, and glasses, and that kindly smile that felt like a mother's.

Later on, Tulane had turned me into a wreck. I couldn't find myself getting anywhere and I remember sending a message to her at one point asking if she would be interested in writing a recommendation for me. She was happy to, although I never followed through with it. I left Tulane and pursued community college. It was August 2001 at the time.

Then I went to my first class and someone told me about a plane hitting the twin towers.

Nonsense. It shouldn't be a big issue, I thought. The memory of the plane crash of The Empire State Building was in my mind at the time, and this, with the car bomb incident, made me think the Twin Towers were invincible. It would just be a minor scuff: maybe some injuries.

Then class was cancelled.

We all went outside, out in Jersey City. A clear view of the New York skyline was visible from Journal Square. People stood, watching. Cellphone service was down. No one saying anything, and the buses weren't moving. Mild panic touched all of us. I wanted to say everything was fine to myself. I kept thinking of my time at Morgan Stanley, the people I knew who were also temps who eventually stayed, and the things that happened there, and I kept thinking that everything would be fine. I forgot that NJ Transit's administrative terminal was built right underneath the WTC among the giant mall I mentioned before.

At the time, the second tower was smouldering. I walked into the bus terminal waiting for the bus to leave. When it finally left Journal Square, I looked out that window. The tower was no longer in the skyline. I kept telling myself everyone got out safely.

My mother was the only one who stayed in New York at the time. Don't worry, she got out fine: she did tell me about how one of my brother's friends came over, covered in dust, crying. People didn't know what to think, but she closed up shop early and managed to get home.

I suppose I was angry like all New Yorkers at the time, and confused. Why would they target the WTC of all things? Wouldn't the Statue of Liberty have been a better statement? I know it seems heartless to think of the people I knew there as more of the collateral damage behind the statement, but at the same time I felt like if I didn't figure this out, then I wouldn't know what would stop them from targeting other places of work.

I never saw any emails from my coworkers, and I regretted not looking further into keeping touch with them.

From that point on, I was saturated with two things. The first was the strangely patriotic fervor everyone I knew took up, the second was a hatred over foreigners, particularly the brown-skinned ones. I kept trying to play control over this: I had friends with dark skin who I thought were probably getting their share of hell thanks to these extremists, and one of them told me about how he had to defend a neighbor from someone by coming into the streets with a baseball bat. Then there was all the politics. It felt like everyone I knew was being turned into a statistic. The more I thought about it, the more it depressed me. It didn't help that people online were asking me what happened and asking me questions that felt like something out of a form questionnaire.

So I shut up about 9/11. I shut up unless I kept telling people to try to take the optimistic approach. It wasn't a popular thing, but I felt like welling into this only took innocent lives in vain. I kept reading about how gun sales were rising out of fears, about an incident or two of Indians getting shot because they were believed to be Muslim, and trying to remind people to calm down and stop talking about dropping fucking bombs on people, and I guess I hated that the subject just made the people who died seem like less. I didn't want to make them seem like less, so I kept quiet and just never talked about it unless it was necessary. And even then, it never qualmed the demands people had for blood and the flags and t-shirts that people sold in their names.

Cue 10 years later. People cheering on Ground Zero, holding up banners and partying. Taliban reenactment by Americans, only it was done to celebrate the death of Bin Laden. It was tasteless, and I'm sure there's more to the story about Bin-Laden's hideaway, but I was glad the business was finally over with him.

But there was one thing that really did make my day. I was finishing up my associate's degree at community college and finding inspiration again in my scholarly pursuits. I wrote up a few college applications and was trying to get into NYU or Rutgers at the time. While I was going through my email rounds, I find an email, asking me if I still needed her recommendation for a college.

My old boss was alive.
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February 2014

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