Earlier today I visited a client of my web site business in Lower Manhattan. Their office is a few blocks walk north of the World Trade Center.
Few New Yorkers, other than media types and those peddling goulish day tours, refer to “ground zero.” Like many others born and raised in Jersey City, I hold self-appointed dual citizenship in NYC. We New Yorkers stubbornly call it the World Trade Center, partly out of memory but largely out of defiance and a refusal to allow the 9/11 scum to think they took away anything more than the physical.
It’s another insight into local character that, until that day, both the World Trade Center and Mayor Rudy Giuliani, were seriously disliked and even reviled, by most New Yorkers; one for ugliness, the other for arrogance (you figure out which is which; could be either or both). But once something of our own is attacked by “outsiders,” it immediately becomes beloved. Well . . . maybe that’s too strong a word; try “tolerated.”
For all of New York’s alleged modernity, we do not easily abandon place names. We require a little time before we accept a name change. That may explain why Sixth Avenue, whose name was changed only 64 years ago to Avenue of the Americas, is still Sixth Avenue on local maps. The West Side area between 23rd and 42nd streets that real estate developers want to call “Clinton” remains “Hell’s Kitchen” to the rest of us.
It was no surprise that bureaucratic post-9/11 attempts to change the World Trade Center PATH Station name to something else met with cries of outrage in the distinctive local accent.
This morning, as usual, when the PATH train from Jersey City pulled into the open wound known as “the washtub,” the deep space at the foot of the former towers, I averted my eyes. I can never look.
The one time I did that, in 2003, on my first visit since 2001, as I stepped from the train to the platform, I was clobbered as if by Gorgon’s Gaze of mythology.
I was stuck fast. My breathing stopped. My heart pounded harder than I’d ever known it to in the previous 73 years. My chin slumped down to my chest even as my eyes remained fixed on that hellish spot. Then, a single great breath from deep inside was released as a sob and tears blurred my sight.
Someone did this to please God.
I wish I could have been there that morning, five years ago today, as the chief hijacker stood before the throne and boasted of the gift he had come to lay before the Creator.
“Here they are, God. True, we managed to rip only about 3,000 souls from life. We had a few unlucky breaks. But each of my team is ready for his 72 virgins.”
God sat there looking at him for a long while before he spoke in a quiet, steady voice.
“Let me get this straight. You slaughtered 3,000 of my creation just a few minutes ago. Is that right?”
“Yep, we sure did. And in the process we also created tens of thousands of widows and orphans, as well as a lot of cripples. By the way, do we get to choose between blondes and redheads or is there a package deal on assorteds?”
In the background a slowly gathering rumble could be heard.
“You do know that all 3,000 were made in My Image, don’t you? I’m not speaking of the occasional politician or journalist or similar lower forms you may have swept up today by pure co-incidence. Those are special cases. But all the others were born innocent and always loved. By what privilege did you presume to kill them? Do you presume the right to take your own life, too? Isn’t that My Right alone?”
The question shimmered in the air like a burning sword.
“Well, of course. But infidels must die. And our reward for making that happen, especially if we are martyred in the process, is right there in The Book. I’m so excited. Do we get 72 for each infidel?”
Increasing numbers of Angels began to gather, their attention focused with a morbid fascination not unlike that of humans gaping at a highway accident.
“Hmmm. We’ll get back to that in a few minutes. No hurry. You have all of eternity during which you’ll get what’s coming to you. Tell me, was there any other reason for this, I mean aside from the 72 naughty bits?”
The dark clouds behind the throne began to pulsate with lightning flashes in purple and red.
“Oh yes. They all deserved to suffer; infidels; unbelievers; women who show their hair and wear trousers; men who shave and eat pork; we even nailed a few children who might have grown up singing, dancing and watching cartoons. By the way, may I have at least one Asian virgin? I like Asian girls.”
A crack jumped jaggedly across the floor of the throne room, almost clipping the toes of our horny assassin. As it spread, it widened, separating him from The Presence.
“Before I get to that I want to consult with someone.
Peter, stop fiddling with those keys and set up a conference call down below.
The red phone?
Oh, here he is now.
Hey Bielzebub. How are you, Bubba? Yes, I know business is hot. That joke stopped being funny a few eons ago.
Listen, here’s why I’m calling. Do you remember that Special Place we spoke about?
Unh-hunh, yes, that one, the villa on the Fiery Lake. I want you to stock it with 72 virgins right away. I’m sending someone down by FedEx, same day, air.
What’s that? Bubba, that’s not my problem. You’ll find them. Sure, plastic inflatables will work. The text doesn’t say they have to be alive – or even human.
Oh, and do whatever is needed to make sure each of those things remains permanently virgo intacta. Maybe the hymen could be woven from asbestos cloth.
Oh yes; that’s a better idea. Cut it off.
Yes, hands too.”