At the risk of adding to the tiresome drum roll that has become of 9/11 commemorations and memory-laced wet dream anecdotes, I’d like to add a little story about my “9/11” experience. 9/11 was a distant event for me. It happened 3,000 miles away and even though the Orwellian nightmare that followed in the years since has affected anyone who even occasionally leaves home, 9/11 as an event remains strangely disconnected from my life.
But, symbolically, it played a role. A curiously allegorical intrusion into my life.
I married in April, 1997. We rushed home. It was Saturday night. Wedding stress knocked us on our ass and I slept well. I got ready the next day, packed, prepped myself for a 5-hour plane ride. I’m petrified of flying. I’m the worst flier in the world. Even a 50-minute flight to Vegas turns me into a vegetable. Here I was, committed to flying across the country in order to spend a honeymoon in New York City. My ex-wife and me boarded the red-eye. Newlyweds alone for the first time. I did what I typically do to cope with flying. I got drunk off my ass. It’s the only way. The flight was terrible. We flew through a storm somewhere near the Four Corners and I began drinking Jack Daniels like a desert castaway would drink cold water. I got so drunk I barely remember much of the flight, which is the aim of drinking, I suppose. The plane was tossed about and I remember closing my eyes and feeling vividly as the plane dipped and rose while the turbulent air currents buffeted the frame as we skated across 30,000 miles up in the air. I was a mess. I began singing and when we landed I was close to vomiting. My new wife was horrified by my behavior. I believe I began singing at one point. She was ready to book a return trip immediately.
So that was the beginning of our illustrious honeymoon. And marriage, I suppose.
I was a haggard mess our first day in New York. We wandered the uptown streets before checking in to our Waldorf Astoria (yes, you heard right) room for the first night. We were due to stay in New York for a week, but we had enough shame to at least downgrade our sleeping quarters after the fourth night to a more reasonably-priced lodging. I slowly regained my bearings and my appetite returned. I tasted a Knish for the first time in my life and I was back among the living! It was a beautiful Spring day and Monday evening as we strolled up and down Manhattan. I saw hordes of suits and I was struck by how New York smelled oddly like Tijuana due to the trapped exhaust fumes from all the cars criss-crossing the city. The weather was sunny and mild. It was beautiful and New York was everything I’d expected.
I was prepared for those “New York attitudes” people warned of back home. Instead, I was greeted with the most sincere and friendly people I’ve ever encountered. This was surely not Los Angeles. This is when I frankly realized Los Angeles was, and is, nothing but a conglomeration of millions of phony and disingenuous people. I couldn’t stand L.A. now! New Yorker’s were my speed, but alas, moving here was not anything I would be doing soon. Still, I entertained such fanatasies.
In the days that followed, my wife and I did all the archetypal touristy things that visitors do in the Big Apple. We saw all the normal sights and landmarks tourists are expected to visit so that they may return to their respective homes, chintzy souvenirs in hand.
We had something planned for our honeymoon that most tourists don’t do, however. We made reservations at the Windows on the World restaurant atop the North Tower of the World Trade Center. I can’t remember which day this happened, but I strongly suspect it was Thursday.
I remember vaguely preparing for our dinner. We dressed in our finest and hailed a taxi and asked it to take us to the climax of our honeymoon, that mysterious pair of brooding towers on the southern tip of Manhattan. Clouds had begun rolling in earlier and they dotted the sky, and now, as the taxi pierced insane midtown traffic, raindrops began to fall. By the time he left us off beneath the skyscraper’s shadows, the rain began. This was the first time on our trip that rain had fallen. And it fell with such ferocity. We darted from the cab and joined large groups of umbrella’d and wool-covered urbanites rushing toward the towers.
The towers were huge! It was not until I stood at their base that these monuments of modern capitalism (which spelled their ultimate doom) seemed unbelievably large. They were literally a city, a world, a universe, unto themselves. The twin towers were not just two buildings. They were a extraterrestrial force. It was late and there were so many people I felt as if I would get trampled. My wife and I began following signs which took us to the North tower and then into banks of elevators which we needed to ascend in two stages if we wished to get scale this building. I was stuck in the middle of an immense flock of humanity and it was moving fast. Wet umbrellas were folded, water dripped off coats and hats. The elevators took us to the heavens. We disembarked and gave our names to the host. The restaurant was magnificent. Here it rested, on the 107th floor and dark, citylit glass spanned the full length of this floor. Manhattan’s skyline brightly dotted skyline beckoned.
We were swiftly seated. A maitre d’ came right to our table. He asked where we were from and the nature of our visit in the most charming and pleasant manner I’ve ever seen in an expensive restaurant. But then, my experience was rooted firmly in Los Angeles-based dining. All my expensive dining there was redolent of snobbish bullshit. No one is friendly in L.A. if you look like me. I look Mexican, I look poor…whatever. In NY, it did not matter. The staff proceeded to continue serving us with the most magical service. I ate a buffalo filet and my wife and I could not stop gaping at Manhattan’s brilliance which dazzled beyond the glass. The instant we sat in the dining room, the storm and its dark clouds lifted. The sky cleared, the stars shone, and now the air was brilliant and opaque and we felt like we had the best view in the house. It was a magical honeymoon moment. I am not making this up. I don’t make shit up. I’ve never felt so “on top of the world” so to speak. That night was it. Utter fucking magical harmony. We walked over to “The Greatest Bar on Earth” and had a couple of drinks. It was so magical that even my wife was willing to let me drink after my United Airlines inflight fiasco.
It didn’t rain again while we were in New York.
We left. We flew home.
For 4 years.
Then all hell broke loose. Our dreams crumbled, didn’t they? Everything we aspired to brought down in a heap of incomprehensible dust. My marriage, my country. The marriage is gone, the country is still here, or so they tell us.
I remember watching as the buildings fell. I didn’t think of Windows on the World at the time. You put your personal disasters in priority. First one thing collapses, then another…you’re next.
My greatest regret is that I took no pictures that night. I believe all we kept was a matchbook. Goddamned shame.