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9/11 and the Damage Done

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Posted on Sep 7, 2011
AP / Suzanne Plunkett

New Yorkers comfort each other near a memorial mural painted on 9/11 in the East Village by the artist Chico for victims of the World Trade Center attacks.

By Deanne Stillman

(Page 3)

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, people began gathering at Pamela’s apartment, and we all watched the towers topple and burn, and then remained in front of the television as there came announcement after announcement with more stunning news: The Saudi Arabians were behind the attack; suicide hijackers had trained in the United States; Osama bin Laden’s relatives had been flown out of the country even though all planes had been grounded.

At some point during the first day or two that followed the incident, I was consumed with the most serious meat craving that I had ever had in my life, and so, as it turned out, was Pamela. We decided it was time to go out for food. We began walking downtown, to see for ourselves what was going on in that part of town, planning to stop and have a meal along the way. As we wended our way south, there were vendors selling patriotic items at various street corners. We stopped and purchased American flag bandannas and some other items, wrapping the kerchiefs around our heads and continuing on. Clearly the lines had been drawn; we were on a team and we knew what it was, now more than ever before. The feeling was enforced as we noticed the many fliers posted on lampposts along the avenues and outside every subway entrance that we passed. “Have you seen this person?” each one said, with a photograph of a person who had been missing since the attack, many of them last known to have been heading to work in the twin towers. Each flier had contact information for the vanished person, and all over town, these disappeared were calling out from walls and doorways as search and rescue teams combed through the burning rubble downtown.

There were few restaurants open as we walked southward. Having lived in Chelsea many years before, I knew of a decent restaurant near Gramercy Park, and that’s where we headed; it had good burgers and was never closed. Sure enough, it was open; in fact, it was mobbed. We sat down and ordered burgers—rare, for me, not my typical preference. I usually liked mine well-done, but I hardly ever ate burgers anyway, not in restaurants for sure, unless the meat was organic. On this day, I didn’t care where the meat came from; I wanted it red and I wanted it now.

“Wow,” the waitress remarked as she took our order. “Everyone’s coming in and ordering burgers. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

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I realized that war fever had overtaken the city, jacking up the appetite for survival. Whether we knew it or not, we were ready to count coup; we all wanted blood.

Sometime later—after the bridges and tunnels reopened and commerce recommenced—I found myself heading across the George Washington Bridge for my appointment with Margerry Bakley. At some point, I was told, the article would be running; after all, the wheel turns again and life goes on. From inside the booth at the Jersey diner where we were meeting, I could hear the bells tolling across the Hudson in the vicinity of the collapsed towers. Although comedians had proclaimed that 9/11 signaled the death of irony, the moment could not have been more ironic—or paradoxical—or just plain weird.

Margerry spun out one of the saddest stories I have ever heard. A celebrity-obsessed and impoverished grandmother raises a girl in a trailer park, passing on an unusual legacy—an infatuation with the actor Robert Blake. “Maybe you’ll meet him some day,” the subtext of her desire whispers. “Maybe you too will be somebody.” One day the long and winding road led Bonny Bakley to exactly that finale. As it happened, Blake too had come from poor relations, pressed into service during the Depression, literally singing for the family’s supper as a child actor. As he grew older, he continued to work in Hollywood, becoming famous for his performances in fine films such as “In Cold Blood” and “Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here.” At some point his star began to wane; he wound up on the wasteland of television, although still had countless fans. It was after the series “Baretta” had been canceled that Bakley crossed his path. Later, they married and she was killed. Strangely, Bakley had been obsessed with “Sunset Boulevard,” the classic film in which aging movie queen Norma Desmond tries to make a comeback, hiring a writer to pen a script, enticing him as a lover in the process. When things fall apart, she shoots him. As he lies dead in the swimming pool at her crumbling mansion, he narrates the tale. Bakley often watched the film, doing so shortly before she was killed.

“I wonder what it feels like to get shot in the head,” she told her sister before her death, alluding to the film. She had entered the movie long ago, and in her mind was living, and ultimately, dying in Hollywood.

“Go on about your business,” George Bush had stated after 9/11. “Go shopping.”

It was a disturbing statement coming from the president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, and as I sat in the diner and learned the strange tale of Bonny Bakley, the problem that had consumed the country couldn’t have been more apparent. Celebrity worship—and the idea of famous people as saviors—had been going on for decades; literally, they were a connection to immortality, as close as someone like Bakely would ever get.

Yet now our president was amping up the stakes, inadvertently I’m sure, telling us to resume consuming, buy more stuff, get things, move up in the world, make yourself the object of envy, live the dream, don’t you wanna be like all of the other people who have expensive items?


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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, September 9, 2011 at 8:54 pm Link to this comment

tropicgirl, September 9 at 8:59 am:

‘Listen Pamela. Some of us are not going to tolerate the profiting off this disaster. ...’

Oh, please.  The buildings had not stopped falling before people were hawking baseball caps and T shirts and bumper stickers, before politicians were polluting the air with sententious bullshit and subhuman warmongering, before a hundred people had a book deal, before Frankenstein had tried to re-elect himself mayor and president all at once, before the death-and-disaster tourists and the therapists and the Jesus freaks had descended upon the site in hordes, before our great leaders planned to bust the budget and slaughter hundreds of thousands.  The circus is still going on.  You’re not going to ‘tolerate’?  Give me a break.

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By pamela berkeley, September 9, 2011 at 5:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The person “tropigirl” has never seen my paintings, otherwise they would know I don’t have a “career”. Art must be honest or it doesn’t have a life of it’s own.  No one could be more truthful than Deanne Stiillman, or more funny, or more heartbreaking, or fierce, or direct, or clearsighted, or kind. She can not be bought. Who are these cowards who hide behind silly pseudonyms?  What happened that day ten years ago made some of us head for the hills and some stayed to fight.

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By Inherit The Wind, September 9, 2011 at 4:00 am Link to this comment

Truthers and Birthers: Cut from the same cloth.

The author tells her story of what so many here in the area actually experienced, not from some distance with a head full of new-age and “dialectal materialism” pseudo-science. Or some place in reactionary-land where they panicked the AQ would hit next (no, they aren’t planning on attacking Wyoming).

I live about 25 miles from Ground Zero.  EVERYONE in this area I came across either knew someone or had friends who knew someone who died that day.  A 2nd grader in my kid’s elementary school lost his dad.  A kid in my kid’s class ALMOST lost his dad, who was injured, but not badly.  The lady who watched my son lost two friends.  My boss lost his best friend. I walked into my bank and the teller was barely holding back tears—her cousin was missing. A friend in the DC area and his partner each lost friends at the Pentagon, and could see it burning from their office.  One friend was there, ran out of his building when the first plane hit, and saw the 2nd plane fly over his head into the 2nd tower, and then body parts rain down from the building as he ran for his life.  A colleague of my wife was late to an appointment at the WTC.  His tardiness saved his life.

And on and on it went.  This was real to us, very, very real, as real as the floods from Irene last week.  Not some hypothetical cooked up scheme that even James Bond couldn’t untangle, with non-existent airplanes that were really cruise missiles and other nonsense.

So when someone says “get over it, worry about other people far away” I’m reminded of the line from Much Ado About Nothing:

“For there was never yet philosopher
That could endure the toothache patiently,
However they have writ the style of gods,
And made a push at chance and sufferance.”

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, September 8, 2011 at 8:49 pm Link to this comment

There’s a lot of True Belief out there, whether that term resonates with anybody or not.  Dr. Hunter S. Thompson said, ‘When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.’  I am wondering if some similar principle applies to True Belief.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, September 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm Link to this comment

nycgirl—The author offended the 9/11 truthers, who have become a religious movement of True Believers and react to disbelief with hostility, same as any other True Believers.

I am tired of the constant flogging of 9/11.  I am hoping after this tenth anniversary its celebrators will finally let it rest a bit.  As madisolation noted, our great leaders have used it as an excuse to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people in their unending quest for power and wealth.  They have overreached and their empire is crumbling.  That is the real truth of 9/11.

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By nycgirl, September 8, 2011 at 1:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wow Tropic Girl !  Do you really think Berkeley is trying to make her career by
moving to the sticks?  Talk about ad hominem responses!  As far as publicity
seeking most artists engage the public, many have eccentric views and visions. I
personally prefer these wacky ladies to the generic, plastic Britney Spears but to
each her own. What has been written or quoted in the article is far from publicity
seeking or careerist, it’s a sad recollection that sticks its toe in the absurd. As
someone who was in NYC that day it was as horrible and surreal and REAL as
Stillman describes it and yes despite the horror we needed to eat.

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By Tiffany Hawk, September 8, 2011 at 10:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Web comments are often obnoxious since people are hiding behind their
computers, but these ones are just too bizarre. This is one writer’s personal
experience and doesn’t purport to be anything else. I can’t even begin to
understand where these commenters are coming from in their attacks.

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By liza745, September 8, 2011 at 6:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Agree with Tropicgirl. I’m very surprised that Truthdig would
publish such an amateurish “article.”  The “journalist” pushes her
own personal biases and sneers at others for seeking 9/11
truth.  It’s a simplistic, naive depiction of those who do, and
illustrates how little research this unskilled writer has actually
done.  And her 9/11 tale of events is just lame, sorry.  No story
here, and she has nothing interesting or new to add to the
conversation.

What’s up with the shoddy reporting, Truthdig?

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By Bronwen Rowlands, September 8, 2011 at 5:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Uh, Truthdig? This is a really BAD piece of writing. Why is it here?

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By DarthMiffy, September 8, 2011 at 2:53 am Link to this comment

Curtis: And, how, exactly, shall we do this?

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By Robert, September 8, 2011 at 2:10 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

9/11 didn’t change America: WE changed America by the way we responded to it. The vengeance, opportunism, and self-aggrandizing nationalism surrounding this event has created nothing less than a ‘crusade’ mentality against all that are vulnerable to attack or exploitation.

The obbsession with 9/11, as seen prevelantly in this article, shouldn’t exist. It is NOTHING compared to the pain that has been inflicted on those in the Middle East. To care so much about this event, to speak so much of it and its victims, while not to speak at all of so many other terrible acts and situations that need to be reckoned with is a great tragedy. Who cares about the 25,000 (American) suicides each year; 3 million (American) people in prison; how many starving people in the world again? Oh yeah, who cares….. 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11…...

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By C.Curtis.Dillon, September 8, 2011 at 1:43 am Link to this comment

My thoughts on the conspiracy are well known here and I have been savaged by the truthers for being stupid and naive (despite my degrees and experience). So I refrain from pointing out the obvious.

However, I do agree with madisolation and others that the incident has been used to destroy all that was good about America. We are now the laughing stock of the world and will soon be nothing more than a third-rate banana republic. But there is hope, small but not insignificant, that we as a nation will soon wake up to the rape and plunder and march against those who would make us slaves. We are 300 million strong and all we need is to understand our common purpose and common enemy. Let us not allow our differences to keep us divided for only in shared purpose do we have a change to win back our country. I am no longer a liberal, progressive or conservative ... I’m an American patriot. It is time to man the barricades and to storm the bastions of their power. Destroy the system before it destroys us.

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By trout, September 7, 2011 at 9:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You said “In LA they’ll be stockpiling ammo and Evian”. They still are.

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By gerard, September 7, 2011 at 6:44 pm Link to this comment

The fact is, there’s no way on earth to adequately address this issue, let along in a brief blog comment ten years later.  The effects have been disastrous beyond the size of the massive incident itself, and the lies and confusions that have surrounded events that followed are so confounding that the event cannot be assimilated, mourned properly, and put to rest.  Too much is still burning, too many people are suffering as a result of the incident itself and the unnecessary and fruitless wars that have followed it. It is a smouldering wound on our national character and the many meanings and confusions must be resolved before it can be reconciled.

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By Morpheus, September 7, 2011 at 6:28 pm Link to this comment

We’ve gone really soft in this country. Our worst problems are ahead of us. We better wake up.

I’m not afraid anymore!

Cheer up! The Revolution has started -
Read “Common Sense 3.1” at ( http://www.revolution2.osixs.org )

FIGHT THE CAUSE - NOT THE SYMPTOM

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By ardee, September 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm Link to this comment

I believe that madisolation, September 7 at 11:32 am nailed it perfectly.

Excepting of course for the conjecture. I am not a conspiracy theorist, I find such a thing far too difficult to pull off much less keep it a secret for ten full years. I do not wish to engage in a discussion and I say that those who believe such have that right.

Conspiracy is something that begs no outside fact or other logic. Everything not a part of the theorists logic is simply a part of the conspiracy.

But I rise to applaud the post in question despite the conclusion reached because we certainly have been manipulated, we surely have murdered hundreds of thousands, had our children’s future stolen and our civil rights as well.

I believe that these neocons took advantage of an action committed by extremists, nineteen to be precise, to push forward an agenda that continues to destroy our nation and the world.

In the coming days many recollections will air, many emotional strings will be pulled. Today, in fact, on NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’, Terry Gross interviewed a NY fire dept. assistant chief who was on the fourth floor stairwell of the north tower when it went down, he and his men survived.

During the program he related hearing the order to evacuate that building after the South Tower collapsed. He then heard Patty Brown, 3rd Engine company commander say from the 44th floor very clearly,” I must disobey that order sir, we have many burn victims here that we cannot leave”. They , and the burn victims, died shortly thereafter.

Three thousand dead, including 346 firemen. I think conspiracy theory pales before such as this….

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By DarthMiffy, September 7, 2011 at 4:33 pm Link to this comment

Wow, such vitrifaction. She’s writing about her personal experience, and the
furies unleashed. Well done and she leaves the door open on the whole
conspiracy angle. I appreciate this article very much, and look forward to
the day Democracy Now! gives the conspiracy theorist a ride before the
cameras.

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By diamond, September 7, 2011 at 2:02 pm Link to this comment

Amen madisolation. Amen. You’ve absolutely nailed it.

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By Michael Cavlan RN, September 7, 2011 at 2:01 pm Link to this comment

TropicGirl

Preach on Sistah.

Me, I am speaking at a rally with Jim Fetzer, Kevin Barrett and a professor at the Minnesota St Thomas University.

Bet we get no stories covered on TruthDig, Amy Goodman or indeed of course the other corporate media outlets.

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prisnersdilema's avatar

By prisnersdilema, September 7, 2011 at 1:27 pm Link to this comment

I remember where I was on 911.

I also remember where I was when JFK, was shot as well as Bobby Kennedy. These were also days the irrevocably changed America, and left many people questioning the official account.

I also remember where I was when Jesse Ventura broadcast E. Howard Hunts, death bed confession. 

Maybe that’s why events like this linger on, never to be resolved, no matter how much we grieve and reflect on them. Because we know somehow that we are being lied to and manipulated.

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By madisolation, September 7, 2011 at 11:32 am Link to this comment

It was a decade ago. We’ve killed hundreds of thousands of innocents, our Treasury has been stolen to pay for these wars, and our civil liberties are practically gone, all because a bunch of neocons got together in the White House and decided to murder their fellow citizens for Empire and greed.

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