It took me ten years, but I finally wrote something about September 11th. And then I made a little movie.
I knew I had to do it eventually, and I had to do it by today. When I saw that the VAMP theme for August was “Alternate Endings,” I knew exactly what to do. I wrote it in two hours; it exploded out of me. I’m sure it could be honed here and there, but I like the raw weirdness of it. What follows are my remarks as prepared for delivery. In the video, the last word is “possibility,” and I swallowed it for some reason. Also, I apologize for the sound quality; I don’t really know what I’m doing. Anyway:
When I can’t sleep, when I’m lying in bed hyped from caffeine or excitement or anxiety, instead of counting sheep – which I must admit I’ve tried doing, and it can work, but it’s rather dull, which is probably the point, but still – instead of counting sheep, I list the top ten things I would do if I won or inherited or successfully stole $10 billion dollars, or I list the top ten superpowers I would want if I could manage to become a character in the Marvel Universe, or I list my top ten wishes.
I usually feel guilty about wishing things just for myself, so I tend to wish for stuff like a cure for all viral diseases, the end to population growth, completely clean energy, and the ability to go back in time and stop Hitler’s holocaust or Stalin’s purges or Reagan’s inaction on AIDS.
Or stopping September 11.
Because, really, everything bad that has happened in the last ten years is directly or indirectly caused by 9/11.
The wars, the hate, the killing, the Tea Party, Casey Anthony, the Real Housewives; I could even find a way to blame 9/11 for Mondo losing to Gretchen on Project Runway if you give me enough time. Call it Six Degrees of of 9/11.
(Mondo, a gay HIV+ Mexican-American made exuberant clothes that would be worn by the more fabulous character in an Almodovar film. This makes him scary on what, at least five levels. And Gretchen’s ready to be sold at Anthropology, Ladies in the Canyon blandness won because it was more “of the moment” and safe. Bland and brown and non-threatening is the moment, because the national mood is full of fear and ennui and the broken promise of America, and this was created by the recession caused, in part, by Bush’s terrible not-paying-attention to anything but war and stopping gay marriage, which he was allowed to do because he got reelected using Jingoism and lies to win a second term, which never would have worked if not for 9/11. See? It totally works.)
All of the bad things would never have happened if not September 11, and I wouldn’t have the dreams anymore. While it’s not as often as it was, I still have nightmares. I never dream in reality; I don’t relive past events, so I don’t dream about standing on the corner of West 12th and 7th Avenue and watching the tower on the right, red and white ulcer in its side, trying my cell, running to the payphone and calling, in tears, my friend Rachel, who worked downtown who I imagined being crushed by rubble or enveloped in flames.
I don’t dream about crying on the subway, going to work as if it was the right thing to do, then walking home, south from the Time-Life Building, against the masses creeping north, the now-cliched perfect day still totally perfect, 80 and sunny and slightly breezy, perfect except for the billowing white nothingness emanating from the tip of the island, which is what I was walking into, towards.
I don’t dream about buying a sandwich and sitting on a park bench with my friend Matthew, watching roller bladers weaving down Hudson, going the wrong way carelessly down the car-less street, just to gawk at the surviving firemen and tons of rubble. I don’t dream about the nightmares I had for weeks and months and years later. I don’t relive or redream.
I do dream about the smell. My dreams are like documentaries of parallel universes; instead of planes flying into skyscrapers, it’s Imperial Star Destroyers stabbing the streets of the West Village, actual, not CGI-ed explosions eradicating my neighbors and the cars and Two Boots Pizza and the White Horse Tavern and the perfect townhouses owned by Sara Jessica Parker and Gwyneth Paltrow.
The dreams are like the more chaotic scenes of Titanic, except a lot less ridiculous and focus-grouped, and I was there, and so were my boyfriend or my brother or my mom or my dad’s dog. The memes, or the themes, whichever: running, falling, fire, crashes, epic, epic crashes, and all through it the distinct feeling of colossal malevolence and doom and that horrible stink, a mix of burning oil, melting plastic, plaster dust, and ineffable sadness of things falling apart.
When I tell myself the story, of the wish, to go back in time and stop 9/11, I can’t just leave it there. It’s not like, Poof! and it didn’t happen. No grief, no missing posters, no smell. No Poof!
There needs to be a logical, or at least narratively logical way for it to happen. For the time travel, I use Dr. Strange-like magic or Star Trek physics to get where I’m going.
Then there are a number of scenarios. Sometimes, I go to each house of all 19 hijackers and I assassinate them one-by-one, sort of like in the last season of Buffy, when the minions of the First Evil offed all of the potential slayers. Except I’d be on the side of the righteous.
But murder, even in the service of saving the world, even in the vision of me as Jason Bourne-like, Jason Statham-like hero, which would be so super-awesome, well, murder would probably be very hard for me. I doubt I could do it.
So, there are a series of police-tip scenarios: In which I send copies of the 9/11 Commission Report to every police station in the United States in 1999. This probably would end up making me seem like a nut, and the book would just be treated as the Turner Diaries, Part 2. And we all know that warning the authorities didn’t seem to do much good.
Unless, of course, it’s a direct warning. So, another scenario had me calling all the airports that the planes originated from and telling them that, “Dude, there are four guys on United 93 who are carrying exacto knives and box cutters and they’re going to use them to hijack the plane.” A credible-sounding bomb threat could stop an airport from functioning for just long enough ruin those impeccable plans of Mr. Bin Laden.
Then there’s the point where I realize that if I was going to use Dr. Strange-like magic or Star Trekky technology to going back in time, I could probably use said speculative forces to stop the planes, the crashing, and the death, and the smell.
And make it all rather comic book fabulous, like a cross between the X-Men and Planet Unicorn.
Why not start with pulling an army of super-smart apes, a la Planet of the, from a distant dimension and use them to clear the southern tip of Manhattan.
Why not provide some of the apes with the best eye-hand coordination some 29th century fighter planes with super-sonic, even light-speed abilities to chase and catch the hijacked planes in tractor beams, lower them to meadows of sunflowers and where passengers can escape and the hijackers can be cuffed and chained by my simian minions.
And if my chimped-out space ships aren’t fast enough, why don’t I just conjure up a super-spell to turn a plane or two into giant soap bubbles, give the passengers jetpacks, and use a flock of crimson winged unicorns to pop the bubbles and the dreams of the jihadists.
Then there would be rainbows and jelly beans and the world would be saved, the next decade would be saved, and New York would never have stopping smelling like bagels and garbage and dry-cleaning and overpriced everything.
And the world, or rather, just the United States, or maybe just New York, or maybe just me – I would never have stopped feeling the sometimes cuddly, sometimes sexy, sometimes enveloping embrace of possibility.