September 11: It tolls for thee...tolls for us all
By JERRY TALLMER
So now it is a whole nine years.
I can still hear the bell tolling — slow, slow drumbeat tolling — at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Father Mychal F. Judge’s home base on West 31st Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. One heavy echoing clang! for each of the more than 340 slain firefighters and paramedics of 9/11, starting with sandal-wearing, Brooklyn-Irish Chaplain Mychal Judge himself and his flock in the firehouse across the street.
Can still see that beautiful girl sobbing her heart out in Union Square.
Can still wonder with shock and awe why it took something like three days for George W. Bush to get his fanny around to Ground Zero, long after he and Air Force One had been chasing from air base to air base to air base — but never to New York — on the terrible day itself.
Can still wonder with no less shock and awe, not to say extreme disgust, why so much of this whole benighted nation suckered for Bush, when he finally did get around to Ground Zero, responding in manly pose above a heap of debris to a (staged?) distant cry of “Can’t hear you!” with the mock-genial reply by bullhorn: “I can hear you!”
Bullshit by bullhorn, I call it. And of course it was used by Karl Rove & Co. as a sales pitch from that moment on, all the way through the presidential re-election campaign of 2004.
Can still remember my admiration in the days of 9/11 for the equal and opposite near-heroism of Rudolph Giuliani, both in the face of actual great physical danger and — even more bravely — for declaring with quiet force that no one should be blamed for 9/11 just because of his roots, his origins, his beliefs.
And then, of course, seven years later, politician Giuliani couldn’t help ruining — making a farce of — that sterling record by campaigning for the presidency almost solely on his own 9/11 heroism.
I can still remember a young Washing-tonian I know saying — like cigar-smoking W.W. II U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay — “We should turn them into a parking lot.”
Can still wonder why no one seems to recall that the original Ground Zero was and is at Hiroshima, Japan; but of course I really do know why that has been mentally erased or forgotten: It cuts too close to the bone. The fire next time, as James Baldwin warned us in a different connection. Unless we’re a lot luckier than we deserve.
I can still see the smile, the beauty, and feel the free-spirited warmth of Berry Berenson Perkins, who died when her plane from Boston to Los Angeles was diverted to crash into one of those towers. Ms. Berenson — Mrs. Anthony Perkins — was the only one of the almost 3,000 victims of 9/11 whom I had ever personally met, and, as I’ve written here before, it is the murder of Berry Berenson that brings my overall anger — nine years of continuing, deep, unforgiving anger — down to the particular.
Most of all, I can still see another very beautiful young woman who, on television, the night of 9/11, or perhaps the next night, was curled up on the ground in Union Square, crying uncontrollably. You couldn’t help being reminded of Mary Ann Vecchio, the young mourner in a famous photograph from Kent State.
“What are your thoughts about 9/11?” the Union Square girl was idiotically asked. Her reply, in a rising wail: “I just want it to go away!”
But it won’t. Nine years later, XX years later, it still won’t.