Friday, April 11, 2008

The Ups and Downs. . .

. . . of being a 26-year old undergrad.

When my loser friends and I get together, at some point in the night someone (usually Babbles) will say, "Knowing what I do now, if I could go back to high school. . . " and trail off into a diatribe of all the ass that would be kicked or appropriated. Being a 26-year old man pursuing his Bachelor's, I'm sort of in that boat. I'm typically older than a majority of my classmates. This gives me two advantages: Life experience and the loss of several inhibitions that normally stifle the insecure transition from teenager to adult. Where I once saw approaching a girl as a direct means to rejection, I now see the chance opportunity for a funny story. In fact, I'm frightened about what will come in nine-courses when this institution puts me out on the street, erection and econ degree in hand. I'll have to compete in my own league. One in which having your own off-campus apartment and a car aren't enough to secure a two-week affair.

The major disadvantage is that I'm typically older than a majority of my classmates. I'm fine as long as I stay current with shit new music, and incorporate popular web terminology into my daily speak. However, in nearly every discussion class there comes the lecture where the professor will circle the room and ask "Where were you on 9/11?"

For those of you unaware, that was nearly eight years ago. I should have been embarking on my Junior year in college. Instead, I was working in a factory with only a tape deck and 45-minutes of music to get me through the 12-hour shift, that was then followed by an hour break before I had to start at my night manager gig at a RadioShack (which I was robbing blind). My classmates? They all have the same story. "I was in dance class when the principal came on the intercom to tell us what happened. We watched it on a TV in the cafeteria. I was in seventh grade."

This topic of discussion became so frequent that I had a monologue ready for when it arose.

"I was working for the Martin Logan Audio Company making cabinets for speakers that were priced in excess of five thousand dollars, apiece. 9/11 started like any morning. I stood at my table and sanded down the planks that would become the side panel of the cabinet. A woman at the table next to mine would always blare her radio. Some shock jock out of Kansas City who I could never stand. When he reported the plane hitting the first tower, I took it as a stunt. But as his descriptions of what the radio team were watching on a nearby TV grew more brutal and realistic, I began to think that this was an accident of unprecedented level. Then the second plane struck.

Not being near a television, all I could draw upon was the imagery being relayed by the National Emergency broadcast that had taken over every radio station. For eight hours, I had to envision the wreckage and aftermath. I'd later be thankful, as I heard that the live video feed on the networks showed some pretty disturbing footage that hasn't been aired since.

I left work and felt something almost (slight pause for effect) apocalyptic in the air. Cars were lining out of gas stations and into the streets, blocking traffic for miles. During my night shift, one person came in. As I rang him up, he glanced over to the wall of televisions on display. Each set tuned to a different news channel. Turning back he offered, "That's something, ain't it?"

The most remarkable memory I have following 9/11 would be in the weeks to come. There was a surge in empathy, the likes we'll probably never see again. Everyone seemed to genuinely care about their neighbor. As if everyone understood that at any moment, while going about your daily routine, everything you know and have can be taken from you. This sense of vulnerability was so great as to be palbable. People took to comforting one another. The level of dialogue in this country was akin to that of a flight during take-off and landing. Of course, I say that not being Muslim, or remotely Arabic. (Scan the crowd for anyone of Arabian Peninsula origins, if so point and say, "You can probably tell me a different story.")

The following week, I was laid off from my job in the speaker factory. It wasn't due to the downturn the economy was expected to take, which would have significant impacts of the producers of luxury items like high-end consumer electronics. No, rather I was let go because I built terrible cabinets. If you ever saw one, you wouldn't find a straight line anywhere on it.

And that's where I was on 9/11."

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