Wednesday, September 16, 2009

History from the Edge - A 9/11 Remembrance

This is my entry for Bruce Bethke's Friday Challenge for 9/11/09.

"History from the Edge - A 9/11 Remembrance"
by snowdog

Monday, August 27, 2001
Damn, I've come a long way, I thought as I gazed from the window of the 48th floor of 1 Penn Plaza. My first trip into Manhattan had been a horrendous experience. Did you know that there is a Newark Penn Station as well as a New York Penn Station? And that when mumbled over an aging train's PA system, the names sound almost identical? I had spent about an hour and half wedged into the small space between two packed New Jersey Transit rail cars en route to some vital training for my new job. As a born-and-bred Southerner with a mild fear of crowds, I don't need to tell you that I was less than mirthful.

For the moment, though, all was quiet save for the hum of the air conditioning. The other students were still at lunch somewhere in the bustling streets below. To one side of the skyline, there was the Empire State Building. I recognized that, having seen a certain giant stop-motion ape swat at planes from that perch some years ago. There was another building, a more Art Deco style skyscraper. I recognized that as well, but didn't know the name. It turned out to be the Chrysler Building. Then there were two towers that needed no introduction. The World Trade Center dominated the skyline in lower Manhattan. Having moved close to New York City only a month earlier, it would be a surprise to find out that this would be my last and only glimpse of those giants.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001
Two weeks later, I was back in my beige/brown cubicle near Edison (named for its famous former resident), New Jersey. Corey, a young intern from Canada poked his head around the corner and told me to check the news sites. A plane had hit the World Trade Center. It took several tries, but I was finally able to get a response from the Fox News website. At this point, I was operating under the assumption that it had been a small plane, perhaps a single-engine Cessna. The picture showed an awful lot of smoke pouring out of that tower, though.

I tried to return my thoughts to the Perl script I was writing, but then I heard someone shout that another plane had hit the towers. What the hell? On such a clear day? Corey poked his head in again and beckoned me into the cafeteria. Almost everyone in the building was gathered around a large TV tuned to CNN. I saw the footage. There were no small planes. Huge passenger jets were slamming into buildings in Manhattan! We were under attack! At that moment, I didn't know who was responsible, but I correctly guessed their religion and which part of the world they called home.

Back in my cubicle, the panicked news filtered its way to us via websites--which at this point were getting hammered with hits and had crawled to a near stop--, television, and a small radio that one of my colleagues had set up. Some of the reports turned out not to be entirely accurate, but that was understandable given the gravity of the situation. Another plane had hit the Pentagon. Another had gone down in Pennsylvania. How many more were there?

A short time later, an announcement came over the radio that one of the towers had fallen. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around that. Finally, I gave up trying to concentrate and walked to the back of office so I could hear the updates better. I found that Mary-Lou, our Administrative Assistant, was in tears. Her father worked in one of the towers as a security guard and she couldn't contact him because cell phones weren't working. (He survived.) About then, the radio reported that the second tower had come down.

We were all sent home around 3pm where I sat in stunned silence in front of the TV with the rest of the country and waited for the body count.


Wednesday, September 12, 2001 - August 2002
The next several days would bring the revelation that we had a branch office in the WTC and that we had lost one employee to falling debris. Our already crowded building made room for the rest of the displaced workers. My commute became harder for a few weeks because the Holland Tunnel was closed, presumably to make way for wreckage being hauled out of the city. With all the inbound NYC traffic having one less point of entry, the overflow spilled back onto the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway.

The classic rock station I tuned in for my drive was playing songs that they saw as patriotic. They weren't kidding anyone, of course. There just aren't that many pro-America rock songs. Still, "Volunteers" by Jefferson Airplane made me feel a little better for some reason. As that song played, a pickup truck came over the peak of the Raritan bridge, heading in the opposite direction. The driver had mounted a pole in the bed, flying a huge American flag, big enough to cover the entire truck, I suspected. "Counter-revolution, counter-revolution"* sang Grace, Marty and Paul. I couldn't help but smile. It looked like something you might see in the South. It was one of those moments that have really stuck with me.

About a week later, I went back into NYC to visit a friend. While waiting for him to pick me up in Penn Station, I stumbled across the entry-way walls where desperate family and friends had hung pictures of their missing loved ones in hopes that someone had any information. There were hundreds of them. My heart fell into my stomach as I moved from picture to picture, some pasted onto paper decorated by children missing their fathers or mothers. As hope faded, this wall would become a makeshift memorial to the lost.

On another trip in, my friend Joe guided me like a relunctant child into the confusing subway system that connects the station, which was now crawling with police and armed National Guardsmen, to numerous stops throughout the city. As we moved past a group of cops, one of them looked at me and started applauding slowly. In my confusion, it took me a moment to realize that I was wearing a NYFD T-shirt that I had bought to help support the families of the lost firemen. To my horror, it dawned on me that the officer was mistaking me for one of them! I couldn't come up with any words to stop him. After a moment, he seemed to realize his mistake and just said "Great shirt, man."

That December, I purchased a surprisingly inexpensive plane ticket from Newark, where some of the terrorists had boarded, back home to Florida for Christmas. Round trip: $109.00. It took forever to get through security and I finally quit bothering to put my driver's license back in my wallet, but it was actually cheaper than paying for the fuel to drive.


September 2002
For the first time in years, my mother decided to fly up from Florida to see me. We got rooms at the Best Western in Times Square and I took her to see Aida on Broadway, the only show running that I wasn't afraid to take my mother to. Since it was within walking distance, we also went to Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum and hobnobbed at a party of eerily real-looking wax celebrities, built to exact dimensions. An especially scary Woody Allen sat in the corner and gazed thoughtfully at us. I half expected him to launch into some neurotic rant.

The last exhibit on the tour was a tribute to 9/11. It was an exact three dimensional reproduction of the famous photograph of the firemen raising the flag at Ground Zero. All around the statues, slide shows were synced to audio from the police and fire communications of that day. The whole thing was more than a little overwhelming. Feeling my eyes tear up, I had to get out before I cried in front of my mother for the first time since I was a child. Here are a few pictures I snapped with a cheap digital camera.





Since it was Mom's first trip into New York, we went on one of these sight-seeing double-decker bus tours and saw the entire city. About two thirds of the way through we were dropped off in lower Manhattan, near Ground Zero. Although I had experienced much of 9/11 peripherally, I had never visited the site itself. We saw St. Paul's Chapel, the small church which had escaped the calamity unscathed despite being in extreme proximity to the towers.

The nearby park was gearing up for the one year anniversary of the attacks, preparing for a visit from President George W. Bush, among others.

From there we moved along with the other quiet, somber tourists to Ground Zero itself. We stood for a long time behind the chain link and gazed silently into the chasm. By now, the vast majority of the debris had been removed and it was mostly just a large hole with levels and tunnels visible. Construction workers still moved about in their task to clean up the mess in preparation for what was to come next for the site, a matter that is still the subject of some contention as of this writing.








There was little talking amongst the spectators as we shuffled back to catch the next bus and see the rest of the city, and from there to begin the slow process of healing that the years would bring.


...I need your kiss, but love and duty called you
someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs, into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love
--Bruce Springsteen

* After writing this, I found out that I had been misinterpreting the lyrics to "Volunteers" all these years which are actually "Got a revolution, got a revolution", but I decided not to change the essay since that was what I was hearing at the time.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Day 25,915 of My Incarceration

This is my entry for Bruce Bethke's Friday Challenge for 8/21/09

"Day 25,915 of My Incarceration"
by snowdog

Sept 17th, 2097. Day 25,915 of my incarceration

Damn, I wish the bastards wouldn't take up their fathers' profession. Seems like I had just finished celebrating the retirement of the one guard who once beat the hell out of me in the gym, then he reappears with a younger face and a grudge. Daddy told him to look out for me, I'll bet. Worse are the female guards. Most of them are nice, I must admit, but damn if they don't make me feel like I'm back in elementary school. "Ms. Halderman, may I take a piss?" At least most girls don't follow their mommies' dream of being a corrections officer.

Seventy-one years in this place today and no end in sight. I ran out of room marking the days on the wall long ago. Actually, I got punished for doing that sometime around day one hundred and seventeen and spent some time in cuffs while the walls were painted back to their cheerful bright white. White. Sterile. Cold. Could be worse, I guess.

I try not to let myself think back to that clinical trial that drove me to violent insanity, then took my ability to die. It tends to put me in the familiar depression spiral which I can see coming a mile off, but can't stop. I just needed a few lousy bucks to pay the rent on my fleabag apartment. It seemed like a good offer--free blood pressure meds, payment for my time. In hindsight, maybe I should have told them that I was addicted to heroin before I let them give me the other chemical they were testing. I wonder if the new drug made it to market? Does the label say "May cause immortality?"

You might not believe this, but I felt the pills hit my stomach. It burned like hell itself. I started screaming for the doctor. Everything went dark after that. Next thing I remember I had killed two of the lab workers in the room with various improvised weapons--I'm good like that--and was working on the doctor. I had him on the floor, both hands tightening around his throat. That's when I got hit from behind.

The corporate goon lawyers got a jury to believe that it was impossible for the drug to make a man violent. It had never happened before. It was the heroin they had found in my bloodstream. And, therefore, I was one hundred percent in responsible for killing those two girls. Then they pulled out the police record showing where I had attacked my father as a young man. That was all it took.

When they sentenced me to life in prison, no one knew about the other side effect.

I knew I shouldn't have started thinking about the past. Shit. There goes the son of that asshole guard now, eyes on me as he walks past my cell, just a little slower than the others. And a little smirk on his face as he fingers that stick of his. Punk.

I can't stay here forever. One day, one of the idiots they keep putting in the White House will be the death of this country. Let the Mexicans and the Muslims have it. I only hope I'm on the outside of the bars when the end comes.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I can wait that long. There is a faster way out. I could improvise a weapon to end it all today. Like I said, I'm good like that.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sedna 90377

This is my entry for Bruce Bethke's Second Annual Ultimate Snowdogging Competition. I chose the very first challenge from March 8, 2005 (then called the Gedanke Experimentieren) because it's short and I'm already late submitting. Again.

Sedna 90377

90377 Sedna is an electric terminal attached to a huge gear made of dark matter. It's slowly making its way around the galaxy to meet up with another of its kind, as yet undetected. In 2216, the two contact points will come together, then the universe will stop its expansion for several minutes. There will be an infinitely deafening, but unheard creak as the the gears and pulleys that control reality stop and re-engage. Thus will begin the Big Crunch as the arrow of time starts to run in the opposite direction and the universe will begin the fall in on itti no ni llaf nigeb lliw esrevinu etisoppo eht ni nur ot snigeb emit fo worra eht sa hcnurC giB eht nigeb lliw suhT...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Study In Contrasts

A woman is pulled from near the Center Street dam by construction worker Jason Oglesbee on Tuesday. A man who was with the unidentified woman died in the Des Moines River. A rescue team from the Des Moines Fire Department tried several times to rescue the woman but could not get close enough to her. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)


Ms. Valerie Hudson of foreignpolicy.com believes we could do with a lot less of this sort of man, but let me assure her that the woman in the water is probably quite happy that Mr. Jason Oglesbee isn't some smooth shaven, hair-gel snorting, metrosexual.

The news story can be found here.

Ms. Hudson's opinion can be found here.

I'm just sayin'....

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Snowdog's Untitled Western Vampire Story - Chapter 5

This is my entry for Bruce Bethke's Friday Challenge for 6/19/09

"Snowdog's Untitled Western Vampire Story - Chapter 5"
by snowdog

The sky over the desert which had started out a stark blue that morning sagged overhead now like a dirty grey blanket. Eddie cleared away the last of the paper plates and sandwich bags, using the cooler as a makeshift trashcan. He glanced at his iWatch and translated the binary in his head.

"Two thirty-three," he announced.

Bob was leaning against the side of the pickup. He stopped wiping down the shotgun long enough to survey the horizon.

"Should be any time now," he said, "if memory serves." He opened a trunk in the back of the truck and started sorting through the ammunition. Even in the subdued daylight, his skin was mottled with red patches. If the transformation were to ever complete itself, even overcast skies would be too much.

Eddie rubbed the day-old stubble on his head and wondered again what it would be like to never feel sunlight on it. It wasn't like he was the outdoorsy type himself, preferring cathode-rays to the solar variety. To be trapped indoors, though, that was altogether different.

Tess came walking from behind some dry brush near the front the truck, buckling her gun belt, somehow making it look fashionable.

"If you knew what time it was going to happen, why'd you bring us out here so early?"

"'Cause I don't know," he said, tossing her the shotgun and grabbing a second for himself. "I'm only guessing."

Another truck pulled up alongside. Richard had brought Josh and Eli along, but the brothers were looking bad. They were drenched in sweat and breathing heavily as if they had jogged to the site rather than riding in air-conditioned comfort.

Bob put his arms on the bed rail and leaned. "Thought you might not show after last night."

Richard didn't look at him as he flipped open the corrugated chrome toolbox in the back of his truck. "I said I'd he here," he said, reaching deep inside. "I still think you're nuttier than all my mother-in-laws put together, but I'm here. Not sure what that says about me."

"Look!" Tess shouted, pointing ahead to the West.

Eddie followed her gesture and cursed. A dark gray curtain of rain had obscured the distant mountains and was advancing in their direction at a startling speed. At that moment, green streaks of lightning reached toward them from the towering thunderheads.

Richard pulled the double-barreled shotgun from his toolbox and shoved some shells into it and handed the rest to Josh who had managed to get out of the truck behind his brother.

"Here it comes." Bob muttered, turning up the collar of his long rider coat, then taking several steps forward.

Eddie grabbed his pistol and went to his sister's side. Tess seemed mesmerized by the approaching tempest.

"I've..." she began and faltered for a moment. "I've never seen anything like it."

"That's because it's unnatural," he answered, pulling the antique revolver from his waistband.

As the storm grew closer, large drops of rain began to pelt them in advance of the main wall. Weapons were loaded and cocked. Hammers were drawn. No one breathed. One hundred yards. Fifty yards.

POP!

A bolt of blinding green lightning kissed the ground, just about thirty yards ahead. Another one followed immediately. Eddie was forced to shield his eyes as a third streak seemed to bend the air around it. Deafening thunder cracked and bounced among the mountains.

With another flash, a young woman fell to the ground in front of them.

"Suzette!" Bob shouted and dashed toward the still figure.

Then the rain was on them. Gusts of wind and water drove Eddie backward several steps before he was able lean into it with enough weight to stay in place.

Bob had made it about half way to the woman when another flash dropped a dead horse only a few yards away. He stopped in his tracks.

"Bob!" Tess shouted and ran after him before Eddie could stop her.

Then there was more green lightning. Several flashes in succession, each brighter than the previous, lit up the valley. Five figures stood between Bob and his lost love: four men and one woman.

Eddie found himself rushing forward with the others, revolver raised, aimed between the eyes of the closest man. He cursed again and wished for a hat as the rain ran from his bald head ran directly into his eyes.

"I thought he said only one of them would be a vampire," Richard's voice came from behind.

For the first time, Eddie was able to focus on their faces. Even as he watched, the small amount of daylight that filtered through overhead had begun to blister their skin.

One of the men leaped high into the air, turned, and started running at an impossible speed toward the shelter of the mountains to the North. Another grabbed the lifeless figure of the woman and all four vampires followed the first.

Bob took off after them, but it was useless. In a fit of irrational rage, he opened fire with the shotgun. One of the fleeing vampires staggered briefly as he was hit with one or two slugs of buck shot. But a moment later, he was up to full speed again.

A low rumbling started. Lightning began to pop off again flickering so fast this time that it created an almost constant wall of light and noise. It was if the raindrops had turned into human figures dropping to the ground. A few of them lay still, but most took off across the wet desert after the others as if by instinct. Hundreds of them, Eddie guessed, streamed toward the shadows to the Rockies. Toward...

"Denver," Richard completed the thought for him.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Menace Day, May 19

This is my entry for Bruce Bethke's Friday Challenge for 5/22/09.


My holiday is called Menace Day, celebrated on May 19. It's a sober reminder to never, ever become a hardcore fan of anything or anyone because sooner or later... let's just say, for example, that you probably won't be lucky enough to have your favorite musician die immediately after doing his best work. Eventually that "fresh new artistic direction" will come. And it will suck.

We'll send those close to us sympathy cards to mark the passing of his or her object of affection into suckiness. Click on the card above to see the inside.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Electrohick

This is my entry to Bruce Bethke's Friday Challenge for 4/17/09

"Electrohick"
by snowdog

Dear Cousin Jimmy,

Just two weeks ago, I'd have not thought it was possible, but I'm now convinced that I have a superpower. Yes, I know what you're thinking, but hear me out. Over the last several days, I've developed the ability to send electrical impulses through the air. The voltage isn't enough that a human being or a dog would be shocked or injured. Indeed, most folks would never even feel the slightest tingle. Electronic devices, on the other hand, well, few can escape me unaffected.

What is the origin of my superpower? Fair question, sir. You know that water tower in the center of town? Late one night, I was climbing it with a can of spraypaint in my waistband. Joe's sister had spread a rumor about me around town and I'd decided to return the favor. What I hadn't noticed was that storm clouds had been building to the West all afternoon. It wouldn't have mattered, though. There was no way I was going to let anyone get away with telling folks I had-- well, we won't go into that.

I made it to the top of the tower and started spraying letters in my prettiest handwriting: "J-E-N-N-I-F-E-R...I-S... A --" Then there was a bright flash of light. That was the last I remember until I woke up in the hospital. About a week later, on the ride home, I noticed that traffic lights kept turning red every time I got near one. All the way down down Broad Street, there must be ten or twelve of them. Every time my truck got within fifty feet or so, the signal would go yellow. I got pissed and blew through one of them, trying to break the cycle, but it didn't matter. Soon as I got close to the next one, RED.

When I got home, I sat down at my computer to twitter about my experience over the last week, but a pop-up box announced that it suddenly had a "virus". This had never happened before. Fortunately, I was still able to reach my free porn sites, though.

Later, I went to the supermarket for more beer and my superpower struck again! The automatic door didn't detect me right away and I damn nearly ran into it face-first!

I know that I have to keep my superpower a secret. If word were to get out, people would try to hire me to blow up their ex's microwave or sabotage their neighbor's leaf blower. No, it's better that I live out my days as a mild-mannered security guard and do what I can stop crime by night. Let the bad guys try to escape the police while catching every light in town.

I remain an enigma.

Your friend and cousin,
Bobby

P.S. Skynyrd!!! WOOO!