Monday, September 6, 2010

American Ramadan

It was the first anniversary of the second 9/11. Like with all other events that had shattered our country's psyche—Pearl Harbor, Kennedy and King's assassination, the first September 11th—it had become a national platitude to comment on how one remembered exactly where we were and what we were doing when these things happened.

I was sitting in my gray cubicle, staring at the monitor, when in an instant, a buzzringbeepding began to throb around the office, getting louder and louder each millisecond until it became ear-splitting noise. It was as if text messages, tweets, and phone calls were cutting like blades through space and time and into that moment.

Buzz. A bomb in Florida. Disney World area obliterated. Possible nuclear fallout. Ring. Evacuation of cities and towns north of Orlando. Miami residents leaving in rescue boats for Puerto Rico. Beep. A bomb in California. Hollywood area destroyed. Possible nuclear fallout. Ding. Evacuation of cities and towns from L.A. to Palm Springs, from Fresno to San Diego, east into Arizona and south into Mexico. All flights grounded.

On the tenth anniversary of what had previously been called the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, al-Qaeda shattered their vile old record. The "supersized sequel" some bastards dared call it. More than 200,000 people died that day, almost half children. The number of individuals with beta burns, radiation poisoning and PTSD was too high to even fathom. The monumental deformities of the new generation, both physical and spiritual were still surfacing a year later, and would for decades, like the spawn of a lecherous terror seed. Most of us had the same recurring images seared in our heads: the explosions, the charred theme park ruins, the remnants of a town once glorious, the crying children whose clothes had been burnt off looking for their parents, the scattered shoes and little body parts. For weeks hospitals were overflowing with dying patients whose skin was literally falling off of their bodies. The country was rendered powerless, yet, irrational, vengeful war was waged in Iran, Yemen, Algeria, Bosnia, Chechnya and Kosovo.

When food became scarce in the country, we turned to the untainted land. A movement of sustainability that never grew out conscience surfaced out of necessity. Vegetable gardens, chicken coops and greenhouses cropped up in most backyards. People, no longer interested in the defunct movie industry, or fashion, or entertainment turned to the only thing that made sense, the only salve for an ailing nation: religion. Even for me, an atheist since I first had use of reason, it became oddly comforting to pray. It was more a mantra than it was communication with God, but it still quieted the dirty noise in my head.

About three months before the anniversary, talk of a special commemoration began circling the internet. It asked every American to go outdoors, hold hands with whomever happened to be nearby, and keep ten minutes of silence. It was to happen around the same time the bombs had gone off a year before—noon Eastern Time, 9 A.M. Pacific Time. Before the second 9/11, there had been similar calls for things like worldwide "light-outs" where people were asked to give the planet a breather by turning off all electric appliances. I also remembered having received prayer chains, where people with a common petition would spread their intention in chain emails, but it was nothing like this. Major media outlets picked up on the idea, and for the two weeks leading up to the anniversary, it was all anyone talked about. From the morning talk shows, to the evening news, thousands of stories were being told of how individuals, businesses, towns and cities were getting ready for the event. Employees of both the private and public sector were going to be allowed to stop work and go outside. Television and radio programming would be off the air for those ten minutes.

On Tuesday, September 11th, 2012 everything stopped. Cars were idled on streets and expressways, where motorists stood holding hands. Across bridges and main streets, people gathered and took each other's hand in silence. The streets of cities like New York were crammed with individuals of all walks of life, of all ethnicities, holding each other's shoulders hands and elbows, in a kind of human web. Parks throughout the country, where memorials were being held, were bursting with families standing together in silence. Through the silence, sniffles, sometimes weeps, were heard.

I was on the roof of my office building with most of my colleagues surrounding me that day. As I stood under the midday sun, I heard the silence laced with soft cries, and in the wind beating against my chest, I felt the echo of deafening bombs.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


They sit in a corner of a New York bar where light diffuses into itself, sharing belly laughs and sudden streaks of blushing, as if time has not passed since they first loved each other. Giselle cannot believe she is staring at the same thick lips that breathed sex into her fifteen years ago. It has been long since they've seen each other but she still feels the same biting urge she did as a teenager. She once thought the attraction she had felt for him was rebellion, induced by her mother's disapproval of her good-girl dating a bad-boy, but what Giselle feels tonight as she sits across form Louis, crystallizes the fact that it was all real.

She remembers the night of their first kiss under a seagrape tree at the beach, swaddled by a crescent moon. Even though his hands could circle her sand-sprinkled waist, he held her as if she were a freshly painted Picasso, and when she looked into his squinty eyes, Giselle saw tears. She asks him why he had cried that night so many years ago. He tells her he was just thinking about that night. He answers that it was gratitude; he had been grateful she loved him back. It sinks in. The atomic, teeth-marked, heaving, breathless moments sink in and the square table between them is the only thing keeping the two magnets from snapping again into each other.

He tells her his apartment is just a few blocks away. He asks Giselle to please let him paint her before she has to go back home. She wants to let him do it, he wants to show Louis how her body is still beautiful, how her breasts have defied gravity, how there are still places in her he has not discovered. She wants to be able to look at him as he looks at her for however long it takes him to put her on canvas. He reaches for her hand and squeezes, releasing adrenaline into her beating gut. She agrees.

They walk to his brownstone in Brooklyn, still laughing. Giselle even twirls when Louis mentions she still looks like a sweet-sixteener. She pauses when they reach the front door. He lets her in and as she tiptoes inside, he tells her to make herself at home. She's immediately drawn to the art studio set up by the living room window. She chokes when she sees how talented he is; she thinks of her mother and how wrong she was. He offers her a shot of Patron. She smiles as if two ropes were pulling at the sides of her face. He makes a toast to "things that never die."

As Giselle lay naked on top of a black lacquered sideboard, Louis swatted his brush, canvas whimpering, hand trembling, heart erupting. The air that swirled out out of her met with his at the center of the room. For three hours he painted her, for three hours she smiled at him, both thoroughly happy for the first time in years.