Monday, August 02, 2004


Living Under Orange Alert

This morning, I got up to watch the lastest warnings. Between commercials for Almay, Sandals resorts, and Cialis I'm told by newscasters that soon we will get important information from Tom Ridge and President Bush. The newscasters sometimes are delivering the information about the latest threats with big "I'm on TV!" smiles, then seem to catch themselves, remembering that they're delivering serious information. We're on Orange Alert. Credible threats have surfaced that New York City, Washington, D.C., and even Newark, New Jersey are the targets. I always thought that if Newark was bombed, the perpetrators would likely be from the EPA.

There's an armored car parked on my block. This is nothing new, actually. It's been there for at least a year or so. It's the property of the NYPD, and is painted a nice, comforting shade of blue.

Over the past two years and eleven months I have witnessed an entire platoon with automatic weapons in the Fulton Street subway station, armed men stationed at the New Jersey entrance of the Lincoln Tunnel, army personnel, some armed, some not, in Grand Central Station, Penn Station, and driving on various city streets. I took a car service from a friend's place in Brooklyn and we were stopped and searched getting on the Williamsburg Bridge. SWAT teams with automatic weapons at the ready are often in plain view wherever crowds congregate. Jayne and I photographed a SWAT member at the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza, standing close to one of the Christmas wooden soldier statues, an image that we found humorous. We saw the man in full battle gear holding his cut-down version of an M-16, looking serious but still posing with tourists, glancing about for criminals and terrorists in between photo ops. Just the other night at South Street Seaport an entire SWAT team patrolled during a free concert. We sat in the outdoor balcony at Uno's, having Chicago deep-dish pizza, listening to British Invasion music as we watched the patrol go through the crowd.

We in New York have been on Orange Alert since there was an Orange Alert, and before the color code system was thought up. Nothing has changed since two days after Jayne and I got married. 9/11 was the first day of our honeymoon. We married on 9/9 in a beautiful outdoor garden ceremony in a downtown restaurant, then stayed our first night at the Tribeca Grand hotel in a room with a view that looked at the World Trade Center. In the morning, we looked out the window of our room at the Trade Center on the last full day of it's life.

On the morning of September 10th Jayne and I thought of going to the Trade Center, the site of our first date, and thought that we had too much to do to prepare for our trip, and that we'd go there when we came home. We flew from JFK to San Francisco late that night. Our flight was delayed for five hours due to a massive storm. We sat on the taxiway in the plane, the crew shut down the engines to save fuel, opened the bar and showed movies. We got up and walked around, used our cell phones, ate, drank and passed the time. We landed at SFO around 1:00 AM Pacific time, four hours before Mohammed Atta took off from Portland on his connecting flight to Boston. The next time we were allowed close to the WTC site, the day we returned, we stared, in tears, at a ten story high burning pile of rubble. It was the first day anyone other than emergency workers were allowed as close as Ann Street and Broadway. We walked the perimeter and saw every angle of the wreckage.

Living near a large downtown police station, the first month we were home, Jayne and I had to show our IDs to get on the block we live on to prove we had business on that block. We could say hello to the cop on the way to the grocery store, come back twenty minutes later with grocery bags, have it be the same cop and we still had to show our IDs. When the wind was right, we could still smell the burning buildings in January.

In New York we live each day as normally as possible. Actually, things haven't changed that much. Maybe they have, and I no longer remember what it was like to go to a ballpark or a museum without being searched. My subway rides take me under the Citibank building regularly, and the downtown financial district is also part of my regular travel route. I will not make any changes to my life. We have come to accept it. We have come to joke about it.

One of my occasional creative collaborators, Dave Rave, was at a Yankees game with an out of town friend who was spooked at the large security presence. The sheer numbers of weaponry displayed in The Bronx Temple of Baseball had the woman extremely nervous. Dave tried to calm her by telling her it was Machine Gun Night. "What do you mean?" "You know, the first 10,000 fans get a complimentary Yankees machine gun. We just missed out. We got here too late."

As it happened, it was a promotional night after all, and we couldn't have gotten in on it anyway. It was for fans fourteen and under.

The following was submitted by roving reporter Merritt Davis:

This was reported on the Medical Physics List Server: At New York's Kennedy International Airport today, an individual, later discovered to be a public school teacher, was arrested trying to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a set square, a slide rule, and a calculator. Attorney general John Ashcroft believes the man is a member of the notorious
al-gebra movement. He is being charged with carrying weapons of math instruction. "Al-gebra is a very fearsome cult, indeed," Ashcroft said. "They desire average solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on a tangent in a search of absolute value. They consist of quite shadowy figures, with names like "X" and "Y ", and, although they are frequently referred to as "unknowns", we know they really belong to a common denominator and are part of the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country. As the great Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, "there are 3 sides to every triangle." When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, "If God had wanted us to have weapons of math instruction, He would have given us more fingers and toes".
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