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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Reckoning, Pt. 1

Published: September 2, 2005
Section: Opinions

Editor's Note: Michael Sitzman wrote this as a personal remembrance of Sept. 11, 2001. He gave The Hoot permission to reprint it. This is part I of II. If you have a Sept. 11, 2001 remembrance you wish to share for our next issue, please e-mail us:

I. Prologue: In A Time Of Ruin

“It was a blood-red circle on the cold, dark ground
The rain kept falling down
The church doors swung open;

I can hear the organ song
The congregations gone.
My city of ruins.”

Bruce Springsteen

I had vowed not to go there while it remained a gaping void, but I went today anyway. It drew me there. It has been nearly four years since the day that needs no mention. Now, as I begin to write while departing New York City on a train, I hope that I can rise to the task of giving you my own account of it all. My wish is to leave in words something of value to posterity, and to render faithfully a snapshot of a time, an event, a nation, and one mans life.

It was an event for the ages, and all who remember it have a personal tale to tell;

mine, as youll see, is hardly dramatic in as far as the day itself goes. I will therefore try to weave together the different threads of my life, so that I might give context to the day when my spirits own city came to ruin. It has been a long time coming, but its time to tell my story. Come with me;

let us go to the city.

II. The World Will Sing When I Am King

“When I am grown to mans estate
I shall be very proud and great
And tell the other girls and boys
Not to meddle with my toys.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

Once, in a confident American century when men walked on the moon, a little boy dropped a cartridge of film into his Sedic Sport pocket camera, pointed it skyward, and photographed two buildings, much like the kind he would design someday. For a child without friends or the social affirmation that marks other peoples young lives, this unlikely place held meaning for him that most people cannot understand. As other boys might worship the home ballpark of their favorite team, so did he love this place. It was indeed the very icon of a childhood.

Now, after ascending in a room-sized express elevator 107 floors to the public observation deck, he pointed the same camera downward, committing to color film and Kodak paper the kind of view that he would one day enjoy from his own architects office or lofty apartment. Just a lonely boy, a camera, two towers, and the dreams of distant Someday.

III. The Thunder In The Distance

“Do you ask why Im sighing, my son
You shall inherit what mankind has done
In a world filled with sorrow and woe
If you ask me why this is so,
I really dont know.
And if you take my hand, my son
All will be well when the day is done.”

Peter Yarrow

My mothers generation as kids had nightmares of the Bomb. She had told me about the duck-and-cover drills she had practiced in school. My generation only had fire drills, and I gave little thought to her story, or why she had bomb drills, or what those bombs were really like. I would learn later on.

I cant remember when I finally did learn about nuclear weapons and their unfathomable power. Ive hardly ever had true nightmares since childhood. Occasionally, though, I still have an unsettling dream about being out in the Pacific during a nuclear test, minutes before detonation on some tiny atoll earns it the name ground-zero. I want to hide my eyes and take refuge from the blinding light-flash, the million-degree heat, the expanding blast-wave, and the colossal mushroom that is horror itself. At least one person in this generation dreams about the Bomb.

IV. The Coming Trials

“Ive been waiting for something to happen
For a week or a month or a year
With the blood in the ink of the headlines
And the sound of the gun in my ear.”

Jackson Browne

Was it too many Tom Clancy novels re-created for the big screen? The leftist college-crowd propaganda? The arms race? Not sure, but for as long as I can remember, I had a certain feeling that something big would happen someday. It would be a world-shaking event, a time of great danger and difficulty, the beginning of a different era, and the time from which everything before and after would come to be measured.

For all the social and economic hardship that has been this generations burden, we had never known danger nor destitution: No foreign attacks, military draft, breadlines, nor major wars. No heroes to emulate. The Great Crash, Normandy and Pearl Harbor, missiles in Cuba, the marches, the assassinations all mere flickering newsreels to me;

the stuff of other generations, not mine. Yet I was always plagued by a nagging sense that our turn would come, and that some cataclysm would test our individual character and try our collective will.

V. Thine Alabaster Cities

“A trip to the market
A trip into the pearl-grey morning sunlight that settles over Washington.
A trip to the market
A trip around the world
Where the evening meal is negotiable, if there is one.”

Paul Simon

The Internet exploded upon us (how else could one describe it), so, after a long string of unsuccessful attempts at a career, the year 1998 found me training as a programmer in the Washington area, hub of the high-tech boom.

Washington, DC: Say it. Feel a chill on your spine?

Just the sound has that certain noble majesty like the city itself, overwhelming in sheer order and grandeur. The white, columned buildings seem perfectly designed as places of government, delightfully familiar to us all;

yet, to the visitor, they truly come to life.

Youre there, walking along: Look! Its that place on the ten-dollar bill! Pull one out, hold it up in front of you in the street while the traffic honks and veers. Maybe later that day: Hey, theres Senator Jack Kemp, talking to reporters! And so on. Suddenly its all real. Thus Washington gives you the feeling that Government works. It has the power to make you believe again.

Washington, DC: Go ahead. Say it.

VI. Days Of Miracle And Wonder

“That is why a man with numbers can put your mind at ease
We have numbers by the trillions, here and overseas.”

Paul Simon

For me at the time, the best part was that a new century was about to begin, the economy was humming, and I was living there among it all. Highways, radiating like wheel-spokes from the Capital Beltway, were sprouting new buildings by the month, each housing some upstart software company. Working for a contractor firm in the Department of Labor, I built Government websites. For a short while, though I didnt realize the significance, I had an amazing duty: Publishing the DOLs weekly labor statistics on the Web. It was my own hand on the keyboard that each week would release these figures to the human race, the very numbers that fueled the worlds economic engine.

Speaking of the Internet, the Apocalypse, and all that: There was some nervousness about the coming of a certain date, an anticipation of approaching calamity that seems eerily ironic now. Yet the century turned without incident. Worldwide computer networks barely blinked. Silicon had triumphed.

In the Fall of 2000 I landed a better job. I felt lucky, because the economy was beginning to falter, though it was still far from affecting the software industry. In those heady days, there were high-tech job-recruitment magazines on every corner. Thick with ads, they featured articles on such fluffy topics as the perils of cubicle courtship. They could afford to be fluffy.

The recession tide gathered momentum;

now software started to feel the pinch too. Hiring slowed, and those magazines became thinner, their articles shifting to weightier matters such as how to keep ones job. I just worked, hoping for the best. Sadly, by mid-2001, the whole affair was in a tailspin, and major layoffs were underway for programmers. The magazines, if still in print at all, were now razor-thin, the articles advising merely how to get a job.

And then there was one less job in Washington. I was laid off exactly a year after starting.

[ continued next week… ]